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Ecclesiastical Abstention

September 13, 2016

Ecclesiastical Abstention

CaseChurch of God in Christ, Inc., et al v. L.M. Haley Ministries, Inc., et al.

Issue:  When does the Ecclesiastical Abstention doctrine apply in church property disputes?

Facts:  A hierarchical church filed a complaint against one of its local churches, seeking an order establishing the hierarchical church’s control over the local church’s real and personal property. The trial court dismissed the complaint on the basis of the doctrine of ecclesiastical abstention.

Appellate Decision:  The intermediate court affirmed dismissal based on the doctrine. The court held that the matter was ultimately an “intra-church dispute” because it appeared the local church was still a member of the national religious institution. Judge Goldin dissented, writing that even if the local church remains a part of the national institution, they have refused to abide by its decisions. Because “ecclesiastical decisions” have already been made, “resolution of the dispute among the parties is not dependent on the trial court’s ruling on matters of conscience or religious doctrine or polity.”

Review Granted:  August 18, 2016.

Prediction:  Ben thinks the supreme court will agree with the dissent and reverse the dismissal of the case.