Defendant wants $25M sex assault suit against Galveston pastor moved to federal court

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Mar. 11, 2010, 3:16am

GALVESTON - One of the defendants in an elderly Texas City woman's $25 million lawsuit against her former church pastor and his superiors has filed a notice of removal from state district court to federal court.

Defendant Presbytery of New Convenant Inc. made the request toward the beginning of February, claiming it has timely answered the plaintiff's original petition and arguing that the allegations of unconstitutionality are a federal matter.

The religious governing body joins the Rev. Morris Joseph "Skip" Ehrlich III, the First Presbyterian Church Texas City and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as defendants in the December 2009 suit, which claims the unnamed woman was falsely imprisoned and sexually assaulted by Ehrlich.

The 80-year-old plaintiff, who had been a church member since 1950, claims the minister molested her on two different occasions between, May and August yet no necessary preventative action was taken in light of the alleged incidents.

Claiming she had no choice but to stop attending services, the complainant is seeking damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical expenses and has requested a jury trial.

Galveston attorney Darrell A. Apffel is representing the plaintiff.

Galveston County 122nd District Court Judge John Ellisor was originally presiding over the litigation before it was motioned to be sent upward to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Galveston because of the woman's complaint over an infringement of her Fourteenth Amendment rights.

"The district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction over this action... in that the plaintiff has alleged the deprivation of her rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution," court papers say.

The state district court is to not proceed further unless the case is remanded.

State Case No. 09cv2229
Federal Case No. 3-10-cv-00016

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