PC(USA) files appeal in Eric Hoey’s case against the church

Court has lifted stay, ordered church to respond to discovery requests

March 24, 2016

Jefferson County Courthouse in Louisville, Kentucky.

Jefferson County Courthouse in Louisville, Kentucky.

LOUISVILLE

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) filed an appeal yesterday in the Rev. Eric Hoey’s lawsuit against the church, asking the Kentucky Court of Appeals to reverse a March 17, 2016 decision by the Jefferson Circuit Court to lift its stay in the case.

The appeal cites a previous unanimous decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court (St. Joseph Catholic Orphan Society v. Edwards, 2014) in which the ecclesiastical governance of St. Joseph Orphan Society was upheld as a matter of ecclesiastical abstention, thus dismissing the case from state courts.

The March 17 order issued by Judge Brian C. Edwards of the Jefferson Circuit Court in Louisville, Kentucky lifted the stay in Hoey’s case, giving him 40 days to respond to the summary judgment motion made in his case against the PC(USA). The judge also ordered the PC(USA) to respond to Hoey’s discovery requests within 20 days.

Hoey’s lawyer argued at the March 17 hearing that his client is entitled to ask the PC(USA) for documents related to the case, including the privileged and confidential April 2015 report on the independent investigation initiated by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

John Sheller of Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC, attorney for the PC(USA), has asserted these documents are exempt from court proceedings as they concern the process of internal church discipline and are privileged as confidential attorney-client communications. The appeal further states by lifting the stay and allowing the discovery and prosecution, the court has not considered the church’s “ecclesiastical-abstention, ministerial-exception, and church-autonomy defenses.”

Today, lawyers for Hoey issued a notice they will file a motion Monday, March 28, to compel the PC(USA) to answer discovery requests they claim were “answered in an inappropriate fashion without giving any information and not answering the appropriate discovery.” The church is expected to oppose this motion on the same grounds it is appealing the March 17 order.

The summary judgment, similar to one filed in the Rev. Roger Dermody case, in which the PC(USA) asserted the court is “precluded from adjudicating Rev. Dermody’s claims because that would require an examination of the Church’s faith and ecclesiastical governance.” Dermody’s case was dismissed by by Judge Judith E. McDonald-Burkman of Louisville’s Jefferson Circuit Court on Sept. 22, 2015, and is currently under appeal.

The recent legal proceedings follow lawsuits filed against the church by Dermody and Hoey in regard to their claims of defamation by the PC(USA), and an investigation into their roles in the incorporation and management of funds for the Presbyterian Centers for New Church Innovations, Inc.
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Editorial note: This article was updated to reflect details of the March 24 motion filed by Hoey’s lawyers (third from last paragraph), which was received after the article was originally posted. (GB - 3/24/16 - 4:17pm)