United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN
PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS
the Court is the Defendant North American Mission Board of
the Southern Baptist Convention's ("NAMB")
motion to dismiss [Doc. No. 8] the Plaintiffs claims pursuant
to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The
matter is now ripe for review. Upon due consideration, the
Court finds that the motion should be granted in part and
denied in part.
Plaintiff Will McRaney ("McRaney") is the former
Executive Director of the nonparty General Mission Board of
the Baptist Convention for Maryland/Delaware
("BCMD"). Pl.'s Comp. [Doc. No. 2] at 2. The
BCMD is a self-governing group of 560 separate, autonomous
churches. Id. It is one of 42 separate state
conventions that work in cooperation with the non-party
Southern Baptist Convention ("SBC"). Id.
Defendant NAMB is a constituent board of the SBC.
Id. at 2. While McRaney was never employed by the
NAMB, he was employed by the BCMD, which partnered together
with the NAMB under a "Strategic Partnership
Agreement." Id. at 3. Aside from the
obligations of this agreement, the BCMD are NAMB are separate
and autonomous from each other. The BCMD is self-governing
with its own boards and member churches, and the NAMB
operates pursuant to its own Board of Trustees selected at
annual meetings of the SBC. Id.
their partnership agreement, the BCMD and NAMB had eight
jointly funded staff positions that were overseen by McRaney.
Id.. In 2014, the NAMB developed a revised
partnership agreement that eliminated the jointly-funded
staff positions and gave the NAMB greater control over other
staff positions of the BCMD. Id. The NAMB was
unsuccessful in persuading McRaney to accept the new
partnership agreement on behalf of the BCMD. NAMB President
Dr. Kevin Ezell and Vice President Jeff Christopherson
thereafter gave notice to the BCMD that the NAMB intended to
cancel the partnership agreement between the NAMB and the
BCMD. Id. at 4.
2015, following meetings between Dr. Ezell and other board
members of the BCMD, McRaney was terminated from his position
as Executive Director of the BCMD. Id. According to
McRaney, this was because Ezell threated to withhold all NAMB
funds from the BCMD unless the BCMD terminated McRaney and
agreed to enter into the new partnership agreement.
Id. at 5.
alleges that, after his termination from employment with the
BCMD, NAMB leadership continued to interfere with business
and contractual relationships that McRaney had with third
parties. For instance, McRaney avers that, in October 2016,
he was scheduled to speak at a mission symposium in
Louisville, Mississippi, until NAMB employees allegedly spoke
to organizers of the event and had him uninvited.
Id. Additionally, in November 2016, McRaney alleges
that he was scheduled to speak at the Florida Baptist
Convention Pastor's Conference. In early November, the
Pastor's Conference President informed McRaney that Dr.
Ezell had attempted, unsuccessfully, to get McRaney's
appearance canceled. Id. Finally, McRaney alleges
that his photo was posted at the NAMB headquarters welcome
desk with a caption that stated he was not to be trusted.
then filed this action in the Circuit Court of Winston
County, Mississippi, alleging three claims of intentional
interference with business relationships, one claim of
defamation, and one claim of intentional infliction of
emotional distress. The NAMB then removed the case to this
Court based on federal diversity jurisdiction, and after
filing its answer, filed the present motion seeking to
dismiss McRaney's claims.
for Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6)
to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) "are viewed with
disfavor and are rarely granted." Kocurek v. Cuna
Mut. Ins. Soc'y, 459 Fed.Appx. 371, 373 (5thCir.
2012)(citing Gregson v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., 322
F.3d 883, 885 (5th Cir. 2003)). When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss, the Court is limited to the allegations
set forth in the complaint and any documents attached to the
complaint. Walker v. Webco Indus., Inc., 562
Fed.Appx. 215, 216-17 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (citing
Kennedy v. Chase Manhattan Bank USA, NA, 369 F.3d
833, 839 (5th Cir. 2004)).
plaintiffs] complaint therefore 'must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face." ' "
Phillips v. City of Dallas, Tex., 781 F.3d 772,
775-76 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)
(quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007))). A claim is
facially plausible when the pleaded factual content
"allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955).
"[P]laintiffs must allege facts that support the
elements of the cause of action in order to make out a valid
claim." Webb v. Morella, 522 Fed.Appx. 238, 241
(5th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (quoting City of Clinton,
Ark v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 632 F.3d 148, 152-53
(5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
"[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions
masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to
prevent a motion to dismiss." Id. (quoting
Fernandez-Montes v. Allied Pilots Ass'n, 987
F.2d 278, 284 (5th Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks
omitted)). "Dismissal is appropriate when the plaintiff
has not alleged * enough facts to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face' and has failed to
'raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.' " Emesowum v. Hous. Police
Dep't, 561 Fed.Appx. 372, 372 (5th Cir. 2014) (per
curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127
The Ministerial Exception and Ecclesiastical Abstention
The Ministerial Exception
NAMB first argues that the "ministerial exception"
bars McRaney's claims. The "ministerial
exception" is a First Amendment doctrine that precludes
court interference into "the employment relationship
between a religious institution and its
'ministers'." Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical
Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C., 565 U.S. 171,
188 (2012) (emphasis added). The purpose behind this
exception is to prevent the state, through the enforcement of
employment laws and regulations, from "depriving the
church of control over the selection of those who will
personify its beliefs." Id.
in this context "does not depend upon ordination but
upon the function of the position" Id. at 203
(Thomas, J., concurring)(citing Rayburn v. General
Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, 772 F.2d 1164,
1168 (4th Cir. 1985)). The Supreme Court in
Hosanna-Tabor declined to apply a "rigid
formula" to determine which employees qualified as a
minister. Instead, the Court looked a totality of the
circumstances analysis to find that the plaintiff, a teacher
at a religious school, was a minister to whom the exception
would apply. The factors the court considered included
"the formal title given [the teacher] by the Church, the
substance reflected in that title, her own use of that title,
and the important religious functions she performed for the
Church" Id. at 192. The Fifth Circuit likewise
applied this analysis in Cannata v. Catholic Diocese
of Austin, 700 F.3d 169 (5th Cir. 2012). There the
Fifth Circuit found that the ministerial exception applied to
a church music director. The Fifth Circuit considered the
"integral role in the celebration of Mass" the
plaintiff played by selecting music, teaching the choir, and
playing piano during the service. Id. at 178.
to the case sub judice, NAMB argues that because
McRaney was the Executive Director of the BCMD, his duties
included "ministry direction, " and that because
McRaney was thus the employee tasked with directing the
ministry efforts of the BCMD, he qualifies as a
"minister" to whom the exception applies. The Court
agrees, and finds that McRaney is ...