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Religious defense doesn't discharge court's subject matter jurisdiction

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A court with authority to hear defamation and invasion of privacy claims is not ousted of subject matter jurisdiction just because a defendant pleads a religious defense, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled today.

In Rosalyn West v. Betty Wadlington, et al., No. 49S02-1009-CV-509, Rosalyn West filed a suit alleging defamation and invasion of privacy in Marion Superior Court against fellow church members Betty Wadlington and Jeanette Larkins. The City of Indianapolis as Larkins’ employer was also made a defendant after West learned a memo discussing West’s actions at the church was sent to Larkins at her Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department e-mail address. The memo was forwarded to 89 other people.

Larkins and the city filed a motion to dismiss under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing under the First and Fourteenth Amendments that any adjudication of the complaint would require entanglement of the church’s politics and doctrine. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint with prejudice for all the defendants; the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed.

The justices also reversed the trial court, but not for constitutional reasons. Using Brazauskas v. Fort Wayne South Bend Diocese, Inc., 796 N.E.2d 286 (Ind. 2003), as a guide, they held just as with a claim concerning employment disputes, a court that has authority to hear claims of defamation and invasion of privacy isn’t ousted of subject matter jurisdiction merely because a defendant pleads a religious defense. As such, the trial court erred in dismissing West’s complaint on this ground.

But this case isn’t ripe for adjudication using a summary judgment standard of review, noted Justice Robert Rucker. When a T.R. 12(B)(6) motion is treated as a motion for summary judgment, the court must allow the parties a reasonable opportunity to present summary judgment materials, and there is nothing in the record to suggest the trial court afforded the parties an opportunity to present T.R. 56 materials in support of or against summary judgment.

“Instead, because the parties treated the Defendants’ motion as one to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the trial court ruled accordingly. As noted above this was error. And on this ground we reverse the judgment of the trial court,” he wrote, remanding the issue for further proceedings.
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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