SMITH v. CALVARY CHRISTIAN CHURCH Docket No. 114287, Calendar No. 1.
614 N.W.2d 590 (2000)
462 Mich. 679
David Orion SMITH, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. CALVARY CHRISTIAN CHURCH, and Mark Byers, jointly and severally Defendant-Appellants.
Supreme Court of Michigan.
Decided July 25, 2000.
William S. Stern, P.C. (by William S. Stern), Southfield, for plaintiff-appellee.
Bigler, Berry, Johnston, Sztykiel & Hunt, P.C. (by Witold Sztykiel, Steven C.
Berry, and Mary Jo Boerman), Troy, for defendants-appellants.
MICHAEL F. CAVANAGH, J.
In this case, we are asked to decide whether plaintiff's intentional tort claims arising from church discipline are barred by the religion clauses of the federal constitution. Even if those constitutional provisions do not provide any defense to plaintiff's claims, however, plaintiff cannot prevail in this action. Through his words and deeds, plaintiff consented to the religious discipline imposed on him, so his claims fail as a matter of tort law. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and reinstate the trial court's grant of summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10) for the defendants.
Plaintiff began attending Calvary Christian Church, a small, independent church, in August 1985. He formally became a church member in early 1986. When he became a member, plaintiff specifically consented not to cause division within the church, to be faithful to Matthew 18:15-17,
Shortly after he began to attend the church, plaintiff requested a meeting with the church's pastor, Mark Byers. At that meeting, plaintiff disclosed that he previously had frequented prostitutes. Plaintiff apparently believed that this disclosure would be kept confidential.
Later, in 1991, plaintiff was formally removed from the church's membership. He was removed not because of his disclosure, but rather because he was causing division within the church by challenging church leaders over religious doctrine. Plaintiff requested that he be reinstated, but the pastor advised that before plaintiff could be reinstated, he had to confess his sins, including his past indiscretions with prostitutes, to the church board and to plaintiff's wife. Plaintiff complied and was reinstated, but the board warned him that if he did not end his divisive conduct, he would again be subject to discipline.
Despite this warning, plaintiff continued to cause division within the church. Therefore, the church decided to "mark" plaintiff according to Matthew 18:15-17, which involves singling out a person who is involved in sin and causing division within the church, and detailing the person's sins before the church congregation. The pastor advised plaintiff's wife and family that plaintiff would be marked on December 8, 1996, and cautioned them against attending services that day. By that time, plaintiff had submitted a letter withdrawing his formal membership in the church; however, he remained involved with the church, and was present at the church on the day chosen for his marking, apparently entering the church to dispute the pastor over religious doctrine. Later in the service, the pastor announced to the congregation that plaintiff had formerly visited prostitutes.
On the basis of this revelation, plaintiff filed suit, alleging several causes of action. First, he asserted that his disclosure was confidential, and that the pastor repeating it to the congregation violated M.C.L. § 600.2156; MSA 27A.2156.
After a hearing, the trial court granted summary disposition for the defendants on all counts.
The Court of Appeals affirmed on the statutory and contract claims, but reversed and remanded the tort claims. After reviewing cases discussing the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause in the context of religious discipline, doctrine, and polity, the Court remanded for a determination of whether plaintiff was a member of the church when he was marked. The Court reasoned that if plaintiff was a member, then judicial examination of the marking process would be barred by the Free Exercise Clause; however, if he was not a member, the Court reasoned that the church would have had no power to discipline plaintiff, and his tort claims may have been viable.
Throughout this case, the defendants have argued that plaintiff's claims are barred by the First Amendment religion clauses.
Plaintiff, of course, disputes these defenses. He argues that his claims do not involve any question of religious polity or doctrine, avoiding the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. Further, he argues that because Michigan tort law is valid, neutral, and of general applicability, defendants do not have a free exercise defense. See Employment Div., Oregon Dep't of Human Resources v. Smith,
Although these competing claims present interesting and complex constitutional issues, we do not believe that resolving them is necessary to decide this case. Instead, we can simply assume without deciding that plaintiff is correct that these constitutional defenses do not apply. Similarly, because the defendants expressly waived any reliance on the Michigan Constitution,
Plaintiff alleges that the defendants committed the torts of invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, the extent of plaintiff's actions do not leave a genuine issue of material fact whether he consented to the defendants' allegedly tortious acts. Because plaintiff had consented to the church's practices, his claims fail as a matter of law and defendants are entitled to judgment under MCR 2.116(C)(10).
Plaintiff manifested his consent to the church's practices in several ways. First, he became actively engaged in the church in 1985, and shortly after, he explicitly consented in writing to obey the church's law, and to accept the church's discipline "with a free, humble, and thankful heart." Thus, plaintiff can be taken to have impliedly consented by his active engagement and participation in the church, or to have expressly consented through his writing. 4 Restatement Torts, 2d, § 892, p. 362. Any doubt whether plaintiff appreciated the scope of his consent by his active engagement is certainly resolved by the explicit writing. Further, as the Supreme Court stated over 130 years ago, "[a]ll who unite themselves to such a body do so with an implied consent to this [church] government, and are bound to submit to it." Watson, supra at 729.
However, plaintiff argues, relying on the Oklahoma court's decision in Guinn v. Church of Christ,
We disagree with plaintiff's argument because church membership alone is not dispositive of whether plaintiff consented to the church's practices. For example, a person may be a full participant in a church, fully aware of and actively engaged in all of its practices, without ever having become a formal church member. Through knowledge and actions, a person so engaged with the church would indicate consent to the church's practices although the person never became a church "member." Further, "membership" is an amorphous concept.
Instead, consent is the relevant consideration.
Under tort law principles, a person who consents to another's conduct cannot bring a tort claim for the harm that follows from that conduct. Restatement, § 892A(1). This is because no wrong is done to one who consents. Id. comment a. Without a wrong, plaintiff has no compensable
In conclusion, we hold that because reasonable minds cannot disagree that plaintiff consented to the church's practices, and manifested his continuing consent by remaining actively engaged with the church, his intentional tort claims against the defendants fail as a matter of tort law. Because tort law disposes of the plaintiff's claims, we need not consider the constitutional defenses the defendants presented. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and summary disposition for the defendants is reinstated.
MARILYN J. KELLY, TAYLOR, CORRIGAN, YOUNG, and MARKMAN, JJ., concurred with MICHAEL F. CAVANAGH, J.
WEAVER, C.J. (concurring).
I concur in the result of the majority opinion. I write separately to state that I do not join the majority's constitutional discussion in part II because it is unnecessary to the resolution of this case. See op., pp. 592-593. As to the plaintiff's tort claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, I note that this Court has not recognized or adopted that tort, see Roberts v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co.,
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