Judge tosses out Zephyr Cove priest’s lawsuit vs. bishop
RENO, Nev. (AP) – A judge has tossed out a Roman Catholic priest’s lawsuit against the Diocese of Reno and its bishop, saying the First Amendment prevents a court from becoming involved in a contractual dispute involving a church.
Washoe County District Judge Patrick Flanagan granted the diocese’s motion to dismiss the suit filed Sept. 30 by Richard DeMolen, the former pastor of Our Lady of Tahoe Catholic Church in Zephyr Cove.
DeMolen claims he was unjustly fired after he obtained a protective order against a deacon he believes made a death threat against him. He also contends Bishop Randolph Calvo failed to investigate the death threat and defamed him when he sent a letter to parishioners about the pastor and deacon.
DeMolen’s attorney, Jeffrey Dickerson, said he intends to appeal Tuesday’s ruling.
“The Nevada Supreme Court has never addressed whether a diocese and its bishop should be exempt from lawsuits,” Dickerson told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “It presents a very interesting appeal, which we look forward to prosecuting.”
The diocese’s spokesman, Brother Matthew Cunningham, was not in his office Thursday and not immediately available for comment, according to his secretary.
Lawyers for the diocese and Calvo argued the First Amendment precludes courts from becoming involved in disputes brought by employees in religious organizations under their contractual rights.
Dickerson countered that DeMolen’s claims fell under contract or tort law and could be decided without becoming involved in the church.
Flanagan said the firing was within the church’s protected rights, and Calvo’s letter to parishioners was protected from court involvement.
The written death threat urged DeMolen to leave the parish. The deacon, who wasn’t identified in the suit, was earlier terminated by DeMolen.
DeMolen, 71, was seeking reinstatement to his job and unspecified damages for emotional distress, harm to reputation and lost wages.
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