GALVESTON – A local private school and its headmaster are seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit arising from allegations of bullying, recent Galveston County District Court records show.
Trinity Episcopal School and the Rev. David C. Dearman submitted a plea to the jurisdiction and motion to dismiss into Maureen Beans’s suit on Aug. 1.
Beans claims Trinity and Dearman failed to protect her son from bullying. According to Beans, the young boy, who is black, endured racially-tinged harassment from a few students when he was enrolled from 2014-2016.
In the defendants’ 133-page plea, they evoke the First Amendment stating civil courts “should not—indeed, may not—intrude upon a religious institution's management of its internal affairs and governance.”
“While religious institutions are not free from judicial scrutiny in every area, the Free Exercise Clause places significant limits on the kinds of disputes that courts may adjudicate,” the document says. “The ‘ecclesiastical abstention doctrine’ delineates these boundaries. In short, the doctrine provides that civil courts have no jurisdiction over lawsuits concerning religious doctrine, membership in religious organizations, management of internal affairs, standards of conduct and morality, or church discipline, among other things. This protection extends to religious schools like Trinity just as it does to churches.”
The respondents further assert that Trinity – as a religious institution – “has a constitutionally-protected freedom to make decisions regarding the discipline of its students without judicial interference.”
Attorneys Ronald W. Johnson and J. William Conine of the law firm Touchstone, Bernays, Johnston, Beall, Smith & Stollenwerck, LLP in Dallas are representing Trinity and Dearman.
Galveston County 405th District Court Case No. 17-CV-0566