Court Of Appeals Upholds Dismissal Of Lawsuit Brought By Pastor Ezra Maize Against Friendship Community Church

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by pastor Ezra Maize against Friendship Baptist Church.

The court said, "A former pastor at a church in Chattanooga brought suit against the church, church elders, and another pastor at the church, alleging that various torts were committed against him. Following a series of motions by the defendants that sought the dismissal of plaintiff’s claims, the trial court ultimately dismissed all legal theories that were asserted in the case.

"Among other bases for the dismissal, the trial court held that a number of plaintiff’s claims were barred by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. Discerning no error in the trial court’s decision to dismiss plaintiff’s claims, we affirm its judgment."

Several judges handled the case, but most recently it was Circuit Court Judge Kyle Hedrick.

The opinion says, "The genesis of the controversy among the parties is traceable to the Church’s efforts to remove Mr. Maize from his pastoral post in the wake of alleged misconduct on his part. An initial meeting involving Church elders occurred on October 27, 2014, following which Mr. Maize’s resignation was requested. According to Mr. Maize, slanderous allegations were made against him during the meeting. In response to the Church elders’ request, Mr. Maize refused to tender his resignation, and subsequently, he received a termination letter which he refused to abide by. As a result, a second termination letter was delivered to him on November 1, 2014.

"According to deposition testimony in the record, at a meeting with the elders on November 1, 2014 concerning his termination, Mr. Maize refused to accept the termination, and it was suggested that it had to be done through a church vote in order to be effective. When Mr. Maize refused to accept his termination, the Church warned the congregation of his recalcitrance in an email sent by the Church’s administrative assistance that very same day. The email forewarned of Mr. Maize’s likely efforts to continue to hold church services and also provided information as to future Church meetings on the matter. As to this latter point, the email informed the congregation that an emergency Church conference was scheduled by the ruling elders for November 4.

"As anticipated, Mr. Maize continued to defy the elders’ efforts to remove him from his position, and on Sunday, November 2, 2014, he returned to the Church to hold services and took up a collection which was not turned over to the Church. Two days later, on November 4, 2014, the Church initiated a lawsuit against Mr. Maize in the Hamilton County Chancery Court, asserting, among other things, that Mr. Maize had converted Church funds collected at the unauthorized November 2 service. Soon thereafter, however, on November 11, 2014, the chancery court lawsuit was dismissed by the Church.

"The power struggle between the parties eventually became the subject of an article by an online press publication, and the following year, on April 20, 2015, Mr. Maize commenced the present litigation by filing a complaint against the Defendants in the Hamilton County Circuit Court. Mr. Maize’s complaint raised several grievances and specifically asserted the following legal claims stemming from the events surrounding his termination: libel, slander, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, civil conspiracy, false light invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

"It is his general contention in this litigation that his reputation was tarnished by the Defendants as a result of various defamations and other actions against him and that he had to move out of state as a result. After the Defendants filed several summary judgment motions and the case was transferred among different judges for various reasons, all claims were eventually dismissed. As to some of Mr. Maize’s claims, the trial court held that relief was not available pursuant to the bar posed by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine."  


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