Christakis v. Deitsch (CA1 12/1/20)

The court begins: “We hold that though the claims arose against a religious backdrop, the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine does not apply because the claims require no inquiry into religious matters.” Plaintiff sued the Rabbi of his Jewish community for failing to correct a false accuser and allegedly helping the false accuser rally the community against him by making false statements. The false statements were serious allegations of grooming children for molestation. The case was dismissed on motion, and other than a letter which the court determines for other reasons does not provide a basis upon which relief may be granted, the opinion is not specific as to what Rabbi Deitsch actually did. Of course, it is difficult to get into such facts on a motion to dismiss. The court reminds us that “religious organizations and officials remain subject to neutral tort laws.” But whether the claims require inquiry into religious matters is never discussed. The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine and its relative the ministerial exception are part of the “church autonomy” doctrine and prevent civil litigants from entering church. Without proving up its point that it is not entering the church doors, the court chases down the allegations under tort law and finds there is enough support for an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. It ties up at the end with a remark that the false accuser is not an indispensable party. One may ask why this is a published opinion. It offers a passing reference to the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine and an attitude about a motion to dismiss. Nothing more.

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