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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. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

  2. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  3. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  4. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  5. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

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