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Suit based on church-member letter may go on

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A letter written by a church member and circulated through another member's work e-mail address contains some allegedly defamatory statements that can be considered secular, so a suit for defamation and invasion of privacy could continue on those statements, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In Rosalyn West v. Betty Wadlington, et al., No. 49A02-0809-CV-849, Rosalyn West filed a suit against fellow church members Betty Wadlington and Jeanette Larkins, and against the City of Indianapolis, which employed Larkins in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. West claimed an e-mail Wadlington wrote and sent to Larkins with a letter attached written by Wadlington to the church's boards of deacons and trustees about West and her behavior contained defamatory statements and was an invasion of privacy. Larkins, who received the e-mail at her work address, forwarded it to nearly 90 other people affiliated with the church.

The trial court dismissed the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Trial Rule 12(B)(1).

The Court of Appeals used the cases Brazauskas v. Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, Inc., 714 N.E.2d 253 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), and Brazauskas v. Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese, Inc. 796 N.E.2d 286 (Ind. 2003), - Brazauskas I and Brazauskas II - to determine summary judgment is the appropriate standard of review for this type of case and to conclude the trial court in the instant case had subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court has the general authority to hear matters such as West's claims for defamation and invasion of privacy, and the defendants' "religious defense" doesn't relieve the trial court of its subject matter jurisdiction, wrote Judge Paul Mathias. The defendants' affirmative defense based on the First Amendment may be grounds for granting a Trial Rule 12(B)(6) motion or if appropriate, a Trial Rule 56(C) motion, he wrote.

Wadlington and the other defendants argued West's claims can't be addressed by civil courts because to address her claims would require the courts to determine questions of religious doctrine; West argued not all of the statements were made in strictly ecclesiastical terms, so she should be able to proceed on those statements.

The appellate court agreed with West that some of the statements, such as saying she "attacked" a former pastor's family could be meant to be a physical attack, which is a crime, Judge Mathias wrote. In addition, describing West as a "one-woman wrecking crew" and having an "evil spirit" can be considered in a secular sense. The Court of Appeals even looked up the words "evil" and "spirit" in the dictionary to determine it could be considered defamatory in a secular sense.

"Wadlington's email, although it may have originally been intended to be viewed by Church officials, was sent to a much broader audience of eighty-nine recipients. This email clearly contains some religious accusations which cannot properly be analyzed by a civil court in a defamation suit. However, the email also contains several accusations which could be considered defamatory even in a purely secular context," wrote the judge.

The appellate court reversed the trial court dismissal of the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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