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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. The is an unsigned editorial masquerading as a news story. Almost everyone quoted was biased in favor of letting all illegal immigrants remain in the U.S. (Ignoring that Obama deported 3.5 million in 8 years). For some reason Obama enforcing part of the immigration laws was O.K. but Trump enforcing additional parts is terrible. I have listed to press conferences and explanations of the Homeland Security memos and I gather from them that less than 1 million will be targeted for deportation, the "dreamers" will be left alone and illegals arriving in the last two years -- especially those arriving very recently -- will be subject to deportation but after the criminals. This will not substantially affect the GDP negatively, especially as it will take place over a number of years. I personally think this is a rational approach to the illegal immigration problem. It may cause Congress to finally pass new immigration laws rationalizing the whole immigration situation.

  2. Mr. Straw, I hope you prevail in the fight. Please show us fellow American's that there is a way to fight the corrupted justice system and make them an example that you and others will not be treated unfairly. I hope you the best and good luck....

  3. @ President Snow - Nah, why try to fix something that ain't broken??? You do make an excellent point. I am sure some Mickey or Minnie Mouse will take Ruckers seat, I wonder how his retirement planning is coming along???

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  5. How nice, on the day of my car accident on the way to work at the Indiana Supreme Court. Unlike the others, I did not steal any money or do ANYTHING unethical whatsoever. I am suing the Indiana Supreme Court and appealed the failure of the district court in SDIN to protect me. I am suing the federal judge because she failed to protect me and her abandonment of jurisdiction leaves her open to lawsuits because she stripped herself of immunity. I am a candidate for Indiana Supreme Court justice, and they imposed just enough sanction so that I am made ineligible. I am asking the 7th Circuit to remove all of them and appoint me as the new Chief Justice of Indiana. That's what they get for dishonoring my sacrifice and and violating the ADA in about 50 different ways.

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