Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

McRaney v. The North American Mission Board of Southern Baptist Convention

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

April 22, 2019

WILL MCRANEY PLAINTIFF
v.
THE NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant The North American Mission Board's motion for summary judgment [48] and the Court's order to show cause [60] why the Court should not remand for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For the reasons set forth below, the Court dismisses this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         Background

         Plaintiff Will McRaney, the former Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware ("BCMD"), sued the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention ("NAMB") in the Circuit Court of Winston County, Mississippi. McRaney alleges that the NAMB defamed him and tortiously interfered with his employment with the BCMD resulting in his termination.

         The NAMB removed to this Court premising federal jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C § 1332. The NAMB then filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state claim, arguing that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine required dismissal. The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine prohibits courts from reviewing "internal policies, internal procedures, or internal decisions of the church." Ginyard v. Church of God in Christ Kentucky First Jurisdiction, Inc., 6 F.Supp.3d 725, 729 (W.D. Ky. 2014). Under the doctrine, courts may only decide "disputes over church polity and church administration" when they can do so "without resolving underlying controversies over religious doctrine." E. Orthodox Diocese for U.S. of Am, & Canada v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696, 710, 96 S.Ct. 2372, 49 L.3d.2d 151 (1976) (internal quotations omitted).

         Because the NAMB moved for dismissal under 12(b)(6), the Court reviewed its request under that standard and found that based on the allegations of the complaint alone, the Court could not say that review of this case would necessarily entangle the Court in matters of religious doctrine.[1] The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine is treated by most courts, however, as jurisdictional. See, e.g., Myhre v. Seventh-Day Adventist Church Reform Movement Am. Union Int'l Missionary Soc'y, 719 Fed.Appx. 926, 928 (11th Cir. 2018); Gregorio v. Hoover, 238 F.Supp.3d 37, 46 (D.D.C. 2017); Kelley v. Decatur Baptist Church, No. 5:17-CV-1239-HNJ, 2018 WL 2130433, at *2 (N.D. Ala. May 9, 2018). This is the case within the Fifth Circuit. See Simpson v. Wells Lamont Corp., 494 F.2d490(5thCir. 1974)

         Defendant reasserted the application of the doctrine as to counts I and II of the complaint in a motion for summary judgment. The Court, now recognizing the jurisdictional nature of the doctrine, ordered the parties to show cause why the matter should not be remanded back to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) (In case removed to federal court, "[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.") The parties responded, and the Court now considers whether it has subject matter jurisdiction over McRaney's claims.

         12(b)(1) Subject Matter Jurisdiction Standard

         The Court has a continuing duty to assess its subject matter jurisdiction through all phases of the litigation. Arbaugh v. Y&HCorp, 546 U.S. 500, 501, 126 S.Ct. 1235, 163 L.Ed.2d 1097 (2006). Thus, the Court converts the NAMB's motion to summary judgment to a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Simpson v. Wells Lamont Corp., 494 F.2d 490, 492 (5th Cir. 1974) (affirming the district court's dismissal for of pastor's claims against church defendants under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine and noting the district court treated motion for summary judgment as a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.)

         The Fifth Circuit has instructed:

A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case. In considering a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, the district court is free to weigh the evidence and resolve factual disputes in order to satisfy itself that it has the power to hear the case. Thus, under Rule 12(b)(1), the district court can resolve disputed issues of fact to the extent necessary to determine jurisdiction[.]

Smith v. Reg'l Transit Auth., 756 F.3d 340, 347 (5th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks and citation omitted). In ruling on a rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the Court can consider: "(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Tsolmon v. United States, 841 F.3d 378, 382 (5th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Analysis

          I. Application of the Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine

         The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, rooted in the First Amendment's free exercise clause, is built out of numerous Supreme Court cases affirming that churches have the "power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine." Kedroffv. St. Nicholas Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in N. Am., 344 U.S. 94, 116 73 S.Ct. 143, 97 L.Ed. 120 (1952). Thus, civil courts are limited in deciding "religious controversies that incidentally affect civil rights." Milivojevich, 426 U.S. at 710. Courts may only decide "church disputes over church polity and church administration" when they can do ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.