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The Rogak Report: 30 June 2004 ** Clergy Malpractice **

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  • therogakreport
    NEW YORK DOES NOT RECOGNIZE CAUSE OF ACTION FOR CLERGY MALPRACTICE Wende C. and David C. v. United Methodist Church, 776 NYS2d 390 (4th Dept 2004) Plaintiffs
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2004
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      NEW YORK DOES NOT RECOGNIZE CAUSE OF ACTION FOR CLERGY MALPRACTICE

      Wende C. and David C. v. United Methodist Church, 776 NYS2d 390 (4th
      Dept 2004)

      Plaintiffs commenced this lawsuit against the pastor of their former
      church and various ecclesiastical entities and officials, seeking
      punitive and compensatory damages for pain and suffering and mental
      anguish allegedly sustained as a result of an adulterous relationship
      between plaintiff Wende C. and the pastor. Wende C. and her husband
      David C. were allegedly receiving pastoral counseling at the time the
      adulterous relationship started. Plaintiffs sued for sexual battery,
      intentional infliction of emotional distress, clergy malpractice,
      negligent ordination of the pastor, and vicarious liability of the
      church for the pastor's actions. Supreme Court, Monroe County, denied
      plaintiffs' Motion for summary judgment and instead granted summary
      judgment to defendants, who had not moved for such relief. The
      Appellate Division affirmed.

      As for the clergy malpractice claim, "no such cause of action is
      cognizable in New York, because any attempt to define the duty of
      care owed by a member of the clergy to a congregant or parishoner
      would result in excessive entanglement on the part of the court in
      matters of religion." Another of the plaintiffs' causes of action,
      for "breach of fiduciary duty," basically alleged that the pastor
      abused his position of trust, and this is in essence the same as
      clergy malpractice, which is not a recognized tort in New York. A
      clergyman's fiduciary duties are indistinguishable from his or her
      duty of care, and the courts will not get involved in deciding
      whether a clergyman was negligent in the fulfillment of his pastoral
      duties, or whether he was morally and ethically upright.

      The sexual battery cause of action fails because there is no proof of
      lack of consent. The evidence showed that Wende C. and the pastor
      had a mutual romantic relationship, and therefore the sexual touching
      was consensual, and not a battery.

      The cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress
      was dismissed because the plaintiff could not prove "extreme and
      outrageous" conduct that went "beyond all possible bounds of decency,
      and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a
      civilized community," which is the standard for that tort.

      And finally, in regard to the claim that the church was negligent in
      its ordination of the pastor, ordination is a "quintessentially
      religious" activity, and "imposing liability for conferring that
      status would excessively entangle the court in religious affairs, in
      violation of the First Amendment."

      The Complaint was dismissed. Two judges wrote a long dissent,
      stating that the Court's decision "impermissibly insulates clerics
      from all liability in a counseling context," and fails to recognize
      the distinction between belief and conduct.

      Comment: Watch for an appeal here.
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