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Muncie church did not invade on grieving couple’s privacy

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A church that issued a press release and held a press conference following the sudden death of a baby boy was found to not have interfered with the parents’ reasonable expectation of solitude and seclusion.  

The Indiana Court of Appeals absolved Westminster Presbyterian Church of Muncie of all the claims brought by the Chengs after their infant son died while in the care of a babysitter recommended by the church’s associate pastor. In Westminster Presbyterian Church of Muncie, an Indiana non-profit corp. v. Yonghong Cheng and Hongjun Niu, husband and wife, as parents of Matthew Cheng, deceased, 18A02-1210-CT-791, the appeals court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded with instructions for the trial court to enter summary judgment in favor of Westminster on all counts.

A trial court partially granted Westminster’s motion for summary judgment on the Chengs’ suit against the church for wrongful death, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. While the lower court granted the motion for the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, it denied the motion for the wrongful death and invasion of privacy.

Westminster appealed on the grounds the trial court erred. The Court of Appeals agreed.

In its reversal of the wrongful-death claim, the COA used the factors set forth in Webb v. Jarvis, 575 N.E. 2d 992 (Ind. 1991) and concluded the church did not owe a duty to the Chengs as a matter of law.

Also, in reversing the invasion-of-privacy claims, the appeals court found Westminster did not receive any commercial value by using the Chengs’ name in a press release.

“Under a Webb v. Jarvis analysis, we find that there was no duty of care as a matter of law in this case, when a pastor recommended a babysitter to a parishioner and the child died while in the babysitter’s care,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the court. “We also find that when the church issued a press release about the death that included the family and child’s names, there was no invasion of privacy because the church did not intrude upon the family’s physical seclusion or profit off of the family’s name, and no intentional infliction of emotional distress because the conduct did not rise to the level of outrageous.”
 

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