Negligence & Intentional Tort

This summary also appears under Litigation

 

Issues: Whether the parties' claims were justiciable; Applicability of the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine; Maciejewski v. Breitenbeck; Smith v. Calvary Christian Church; The defendant-pastor's counterclaims for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, fraud, tortious interference with contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, & civil conspiracy; Dlaikan v. Roodbeen; Distinguishing Vincent v. Raglin; Conversion claim; Effect of a prior restitution order; Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Collins; Property disputes; Jones v. Wolf; Chabad-Lubavitch of MI v. Schuchman; Watson v. Jones

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Published)

Case Name: Pilgrim's Rest Baptist Church v. Pearson

e-Journal Number: 59789

Judge(s): Per Curiam – Meter, Sawyer, and Boonstra

 

Holding that defendant-Pearson's counterclaims would require a determination whether the church board of trustees had the authority to suspend and then terminate him, and thus would require determinations of religious polity, the court affirmed the trial court's summary disposition of those claims because "the civil courts do not have jurisdiction." However, plaintiffs' claim for conversion was justiciable and not barred by a prior restitution order. Further, the claims related to ownership of approximately $14,623.46 in donations deposited in a bank account were not barred by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. Thus, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. These consolidated cases involved a church, its former pastor (Pearson), and groups of parties collectively referred to as the "pastor's supporters" and the "pastor's opponents." After the accounting firm hired to examine church finances issued a preliminary report, the board of trustees, "allegedly exercising its right as board of directors, voted to suspend defendant Pearson with pay." On 12/30/11, the county prosecutor's office authorized an arrest warrant for "Pearson on one count of embezzlement." He was later "found guilty of embezzlement greater than $50,000 but less than $100,000 after he pleaded nolo contendere," and ordered to pay restitution. On 1/1/12, "pastor's supporters held a board of directors meeting, at which they claim pastor's opposition maliciously tried to break up the vote for a board of directors." Pastor's opponents questioned "the legitimacy of the board of directors that were voted in by the pastor's supporters. After this meeting, two boards of directors each began asserting that it was the legitimate board of directors." The trial court ruled that "all the claims from both cases were non-justiciable under MCR 2.116(C)(8) because of the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine." On appeal, the court noted that all of Pearson's counterclaims "as pleaded make reference to the employment contract" between Pearson and the church. His reliance on Vincent was misplaced because here, "the determination would be whether the church exceeded its authority in acting, which is non-justiciable because it would require the court to determine if the church violated its own polity." Further, Pearson's claims involved "the provision of his services as pastor to the church, which is the essence of the church's constitutionally protected function, and 'any claimed contract for such services likely involves its ecclesiastical policies, outside the purview of civil law.'"

 

Full Text Opinion

This summary also appears under School Law

 

Issues: Governmental immunity; The Governmental Tort Liability Act (MCL 691.1401 et seq.); MCL 691.1407(1); Serious injuries suffered when the plaintiff's vehicle collided with a school bus driven by defendant's bus driver; Robinson v. Detroit; The motor vehicle exception; MCL 691.1405; Whether the phrase "bodily injury" includes damages such as pain and suffering; Hunter v. Sisco; Hannay v. Department of Transp.; Wesche v. Mecosta Cnty. Rd. Comm'n; "Liable for bodily injury" defined

Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished)

Case Name: Letson v. Pinconning Area Sch.

e-Journal Number: 59719

Judge(s): Per Curiam – Owens, Jansen, and Murray

 

Based on Hannay's meaning of the phrase "liable for bodily injury" within the motor vehicle exception, the court held that the plaintiff was not precluded from recovering damages for any pain and suffering that she can prove, and the trial court did not err in denying the defendant-Pinconning Area Schools' motion for partial summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7) (governmental immunity). Plaintiff was seriously injured when her vehicle collided with a school bus driven by defendant's bus driver. Plaintiff alleged that as a direct and proximate result of the driver's negligent acts or omissions, she sustained a serious impairment of bodily function. Defendant argued that plaintiff's claims for pain and suffering were precluded by the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity. The only dispute was whether the phrase "bodily injury" includes damages such as pain and suffering. Defendant relied on Hunter and the Supreme Court's decision in Wesche, asserting that the phrase "'bodily injury' does not include damages for pain and suffering or emotional damages." However, the Supreme Court recently overruled Hunter and clarified its holding in Wesche in a way that precluded defendant's position. "Tort damages generally include damages that naturally flow from the injury, which may include noneconomic damages, such as those for pain and suffering and mental and emotional distress." Thus, Hannay concluded that "the phrase 'liable for bodily injury' within the motor vehicle exception means that a plaintiff who suffers a bodily injury may recover for items of tort damages that naturally flow from that physical or corporeal injury to the body, which may include both economic and noneconomic damages." Affirmed.

 

Full Text Opinion
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