Charles E. Ross and Brenda Jones represented St. James Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, Inc., and Jerry McBride in Hinds County Circuit Court against claims of breach of fiduciary duty, fraudulent concealment, negligent misrepresentation, invasion of privacy, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent retention/supervision, and clergy malpractice.

The plaintiff, a parishioner of St. James Episcopal Church, alleged that McBride, the church’s former priest, participated in the tape recording of a conversation between the plaintiff and her husband without the plaintiff’s knowledge. The trial court found that the purpose of this recording was to secure evidence that the plaintiff’s husband could use as leverage in order to obtain a no-fault divorce from the plaintiff.

At Mr. Ross’ and Mrs. Jones’ request, the trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all of the claims except the fraudulent concealment claim against Mr. McBride. On appeal by both the plaintiff and Mr. Ross and Mrs. Jones on behalf of Mr. McBride, the Supreme Court of Mississippi held that the First Amendment did not preclude jurisdiction of the court over the claims in that the conversation at issue did not involve ecclesiastical matters.

The court further held that the trial court was correct in granting Mr. Ross’ and Mrs. Jones’ motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty claim due to the fact that the plaintiff did not establish the existence of a fiduciary relationship between herself and Mr. McBride.

Regarding the plaintiff’s remaining negligence claims, the court again affirmed the trial court’s granting of Mr. Ross’ and Mrs. Jones’ motion for summary judgment in that, in order to establish a duty on the part of Mr. McBride, St. James, and the diocese, the court would be forced to involve itself too extensively in religious matters, which is not permitted by the First Amendment. Finally, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of summary judgment on Mr. McBride’s fraudulent concealment claim.

Supreme Court of Mississippi
October 7, 2004

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