Defamation claims against churches and American Samoa’s Deeds of Cession

Opinion analysis: Court rules that Catholic elementary school teachers are “ministers,” cannot sue for employment discrimination

Petitions of the week

By Andrew Hamm

at 4:47 pm

This week we’re highlighting certification filings asking the Supreme Court to review, among other things, when religious groups are subject to state tort claims and whether a federal agency that passed a new fisheries regulation should have considered a pair of early 20th century agreements that have certain rights from American Samoa preserved.

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church and School of Hosanna-Tabor v EEOC, the Supreme Court ruled that the first amendment protects religious groups from lawsuits from ministers making claims of discrimination in the workplace. In two petitions, the Supreme Court is now asked to decide how the guarantee of religious freedom through the first amendment interacts with state crime claims such as defamation. On the North American Mission Board of Southern Baptist Convention Inc. against McRaney, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Rev. Will McRaney’s defamation and other claims against the Southern Baptist Convention to proceed because a civil court could resolve the case using neutral principles, without weighing questions of faith. In contrast, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in the Lippard v. Holleman case ruled out Kim and Barry Lippard’s defamation lawsuit against the Diamond Hill Baptist Church pastor and minister of music because the contested testimony was made in a church setting, albeit neutrally Principles was possible to regulate the case.

Territory of American Samoa v National Marine Fisheries Service presents the deeds of assignment to the judges. In the deeds of assignment, American Samoa became a United States territory in the early 1900s in exchange for protecting the Fa’a Samoa, customary rights, and property of the American Samoa people. In 2016, the National Marine Fisheries Service changed an earlier regulation that banned large vessels from fishing within 50 miles of American Samoa. The new regulation moved the limit to 12 miles. American Samoa complained that the new ordinance threatened traditional Samoan fishing practices in violation of the deeds of assignment – and that the Fisheries Service ignored American Samoa’s comments on the deeds of assignment during the rulemaking process. After the American Samoa District Court ruled, the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed for the 9th Circuit. The 9th Circle found that the Fisheries Service had given due consideration to contributions from American Samoa and that it was “of little concern” that the Fisheries Service never specifically addressed the deeds of assignment. American Samoa is asking judges to review the 9th Circle’s decision.

These and other petitions of the week are listed below:

Badgerow v. Walters
problem: Whether federal courts have substantive jurisdiction to confirm or revoke an arbitration award pursuant to Sections 9 and 10 of the Federal Arbitration Court, if the sole basis of jurisdiction is that the underlying dispute is a federal issue.

North American Mission Board of Southern Baptist Convention Inc. versus McRaney
Problems: (1) Can a secular court, in accordance with the religious clauses of the First Amendment, judge the labor law claims of a minister against a religious organization according to neutral principles of tort law? and (2) whether the first amendment precludes ruling on labor tort claims by a minister only if brought against the legal entity that was the minister’s employer.

Maine Community Health Options v United States
problem: Whether the government is required to pay insurers the full amount of cost sharing reduction payments required under the clear payment language of Section 1402 of the Affordable Care Act.

Lippard v. Holleman
problem: Whether the religious clauses of the First Amendment prohibit the courts from hearing defamation claims that arise from church framework conditions, even if the claims can be clarified according to neutral legal principles.

American Samoa Territory versus National Marine Fisheries Service
problem: Whether the deeds of assignment that incorporated American Samoa into the United States create binding and enforceable obligations to the United States and its agencies.

Johnson & Johnson versus Ingham
[Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to SCOTUSblog in various capacities, is counsel to the respondents in this case. This listing occurs without regard to the likelihood that certiorari will be granted.]
Problems: (1) Whether a court must assess whether consolidating multiple plaintiffs into a single proceeding is against due process or whether it can assume that instructions from the jury will always cure both confusion and prejudice of the jury against the accused; (2) whether punitive damages are in breach of due process if they far exceed substantial damages, and whether the ratio of punitive damages to damages for jointly and severally liable defendants is calculated on the assumption that each defendant pays all the damages; and (3) whether the requirement of specific personal jurisdiction “arises or relates to” can be met by merely showing a “link” in the causal chain, as determined by the Missouri Court of Appeals, or whether an enhanced portrayal of kinship is required, as argued by Ford Motor Company in Ford Motor Co. v Montana Eighth Judicial District Court.