800 A.2d 840 (N.J. 2002), McKelvey v. Pierce

Citation800 A.2d 840, 173 N.J. 26
Party NameChristopher J. McKELVEY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Rev. William C. PIERCE, individually; Rev. John T. Frey, individually; Rev. William P. Brennan, individually; Rev. Anthony J. Manuppella, individually; Estate of Rev. Msgr. William J. Buchler, individually; and Diocese of Camden, a religious corporation, Defendants-Respondents, and John Does 1-10 (a
Case DateJuly 10, 2002
CourtSupreme Court of New Jersey

Page 840

800 A.2d 840 (N.J. 2002)

173 N.J. 26

Christopher J. McKELVEY, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Rev. William C. PIERCE, individually; Rev. John T. Frey, individually; Rev. William P. Brennan, individually; Rev. Anthony J. Manuppella, individually; Estate of Rev. Msgr. William J. Buchler, individually; and Diocese of Camden, a religious corporation, Defendants-Respondents,

and

John Does 1-10 (a fictitious name for persons and/or entities whose identity or culpability is not presently known), Defendants.

Supreme Court of New Jersey

July 10, 2002.

Argued Feb. 26, 2002.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[173 N.J. 32] Stephen C. Rubino argued the cause for appellant (Ross & Rubino, attorneys; Mr. Rubino and Jennifer B. Barr Swift, Margate, on the brief).

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Martin F. McKernan, Jr., Camden, argued the cause for respondents (McKernan, McKernan & Godino, attorneys).

OPINION

LONG, J.

Plaintiff Christopher J. McKelvey, a former Roman Catholic seminarian, has sued the Diocese of Camden and a number of its priests, in contract and tort, claiming that he was regularly and persistently subjected to unwanted homosexual advances during his lengthy seminary training despite his complaints to supervisors at every level. According to McKelvey, he was forced to drop out before ordination due to the homosexual harassment, and is now without a meaningful career. The Superior Court dismissed McKelvey's complaint on the ground that adjudicating it would require intrusion into church polity and administration, excessively entangling church and state in violation of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. U.S. Const. amend. I. The Appellate Division affirmed that judgment.

We now reverse. The First Amendment does not immunize every legal claim against a religious institution and its members. [173 N.J. 33] The analysis in each case is fact-sensitive and claim specific, requiring an assessment of every issue raised in terms of doctrinal and administrative intrusion and entanglement. In our view, the lower courts failed to engage in that kind of painstaking analysis and painted with too broad a brush when dismissing McKelvey's case in its entirety. We thus reverse and remand the case to the trial court to determine, on an issue-by-issue basis, whether any of McKelvey's claims may be adjudicated consistent with First Amendment principles.

I

The history of this case is detailed in the opinion below, McKelvey v. Pierce, 342 N.J.Super. 399, 403-10, 776 A.2d 903 (App.Div.2001), and is incorporated as if more fully set forth. In brief, in 1999, McKelvey sued the Diocese of Camden (Diocese) and a number of priests (collectively, defendants) alleging breach of an implied contract by the creation of a hostile education and work environment, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and fraud and deceit. He demanded a jury trial. That complaint and an amended version of it were dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. McKelvey filed a second amended complaint, again alleging the same causes of action.

After limited discovery, and without ever filing an answer, defendants moved to dismiss the second amended complaint. The motion by defendants for judgment on the pleadings, R. 4:6-2(d), effectively became a motion for summary judgment. R. 4:46-2; Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, cmt. 4.1 on R. 4:6-2(3)(2001).

The facts before the trial court, with the benefit of inferences in favor of McKelvey, the non-moving party, see F.G. v. MacDonell, 150 N.J. 550, 556, 696 A.2d 697 (1997), are as follows: In January 1985, McKelvey made inquiry of the Diocese regarding his interest in becoming a Roman Catholic priest. He was provided with a brochure entitled "The Diocesan Priesthood," which underscored celibacy as a required element for participation. The brochure [173 N.J. 34] also described the application process, including an initial meeting with the Vocation Director of the Diocese; completing an application form; forwarding written recommendations, ecclesiastical records, and academic transcripts; undergoing psychological

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and physical examinations; and engaging in an interview process.

According to the brochure, upon acceptance, the applicant is assigned to a place of study in a formation program in a religious seminary. Included is a four-year college education. Upon graduating from the college seminary, the seminarian is assigned to a school of theology for the final four years of his academic training. The ninth and final year of formation, prior to ordination to the priesthood, is a year of transition from the seminary to the Diocese. At the completion of that year of internship, the candidate petitions the Bishop for ordination.

McKelvey initiated the process. As part of his application, he met with the Director of Vocations of the Diocese and later was interviewed by four priests. On April 16, 1985, the Diocese notified McKelvey of his conditional acceptance as a candidate for the priesthood. In January 1986, Auxiliary Bishop Schad wrote to McKelvey's mother that "at the present time, the actual costs for college education of Camden seminarians is over $28,000," of which the student would be responsible for $8,000. Students were eligible for the federal Guaranteed Student Loan Program. The Bishop's letter assured that "all tuition, room and board costs at the graduate level are paid for by the Diocese of Camden." Nothing was mentioned in Bishop Schad's letter about a repayment obligation, if any, upon withdrawal.

McKelvey attended St. Pius X Seminary until 1989. The seminary was affiliated academically with the University of Scranton, a Jesuit institution from which McKelvey obtained an A.B. degree in 1989. From 1989 to 1993, he attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, a theological seminary and divinity school in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania operated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. When not at St. Charles, he was assigned to work as an intern at the Holy Family Church in Grenloch, New Jersey in 1990 and [173 N.J. 35] 1992. After graduating from St. Charles in 1993, he interned at Our Lady of Lourdes in Glassboro, New Jersey, and at the Church of the Incarnation in Mantua, New Jersey.

The student handbook in use at the time McKelvey attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary stated that seminarians were expected to refrain from dating (defined as extending an invitation to another person for romantic purposes). A 1993 statement issued by Bishop McHugh of the Camden Diocese (in response to sexual abuse charges made by other persons against the Diocese) stated that the Church vehemently opposes all sexual misconduct, including "sexual misconduct with an adult," especially by clergy and others in Church positions. The Bishop stated there was no tolerance for any type of sexual behavior on the part of priests in the Diocese. According to Church guidelines regarding charges of sexual molestation, which were issued in August 1993, proscribed conduct included "sexual misconduct with an adult, or any public action contrary to Church law or teachings regarding sexual behavior."

According to McKelvey, although the Diocese and its employees made implied representations that his educational program would be free of exposure to extramarital sexual conduct, deviant sexual conduct, and sexual harassment, defendants instead provided an atmosphere in which they and their employees "fostered, tolerated, permitted and encouraged inappropriate sexual conduct which included, but was not limited to, persistent and frequent demands whereby plaintiff was subjected and exposed to unreasonable, unlawful, immoral homosexual and other deviant discussions and/or contact." In particular, McKelvey alleged that while living in one rectory of the Diocese, one defendant repeatedly

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confronted him in order to discuss his homosexual lifestyle and to importune McKelvey to accompany him to gay bars. That same defendant also attempted to draw McKelvey into discussions of masturbation, homosexuality, and other sexual acts. McKelvey reported that misconduct to the vocation director of the Diocese (who was the supervisor of both McKelvey and the defendant making the [173 N.J. 36] overtures). The vocation director failed to take any corrective action.

Another defendant, also McKelvey's supervisor, attempted to engage him in sexually related topics, including homosexual acts. Following that defendant's death, McKelvey was assigned to the supervision of another defendant, who apparently was aware that McKelvey had reported the sexual overtures of his predecessor. According to McKelvey, that defendant acted in an abusive and hostile manner; created a hostile working, residential, and educational environment; and failed to prevent further abusive conduct by other defendants. McKelvey also claims that another defendant, who was assigned to him as a mentor and spiritual director, informed McKelvey that he too was homosexual and invited McKelvey to go dancing with him at gay bars and to accompany him to the gym. (McKelvey does not claim that any priest or superior ever touched him in an improper way.)

In November 1993, the Diocese granted McKelvey's request for a voluntary leave of absence. When he did not return, the Diocese terminated his candidacy for the priesthood in August 1995. Following McKelvey's termination, Rev. John T. Frey, Director of Vocations, sent him a letter that stated, in pertinent part:

With this letter I am also informing you of your indebtedness to the Diocese of Camden for the years you were a candidate. The total is $69,002.57. This represents combined tuition, books, fees from the University of Scranton and St. Charles Borromeo Seminary ($51,791.10) and personal loans, including counseling ($17,231.47).

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  • Fassl v. Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church, 100405 PAEDC, 05-cv-0404
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • October 4, 2005
    ...Church , 375 F.3d 951 (9th Cir. 2004); Bollard v. Cal. Province of the Soc'y of Jesus , 196 F.3d 940 (9th Cir. 1999); McKelvey v. Pierce , 800 A.2d 840 (N.J. 2002). None of these cases involved a Rule 12(b)(1) challenge to jurisdiction. In fact, in each of these cases, the courts found that......
  • 899 A.2d 316 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2006), Menorah Chapels At Millburn v. Needle
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • June 8, 2006
    ...principal and parish over Page 321 termination of employment following parochial school consolidation); see also McKelvey v. Pierce, 173 N.J. 26, 800 A.2d 840 (2002) (remanding for a determination whether former seminarian's breach of contract claims against diocese and priests could be lit......
  • Moche v. Levy, 042216 NJSUP, A-5480-13T2
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • April 22, 2016
    ...another on matters within the scope of their relationship." F.G. v. MacDonell, 150 N.J. 550, 563 (1997); see also McKelvey v. Pierce, 173 N.J. 26, 57 (2002). [13] In this case, the court actually engaged in reverse-veil-piercing, imposing the liability of an individual upon a corporati......
  • Munoz v. Perla, 122011 NJSUP, A-5922-08T3
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • December 20, 2011
    ...a breach of the duties imposed by the existence of such a relationship. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 874 (1979). [ McKelvey v. Pierce, 173 N.J. 26, 57 (2002) (quoting F.G. v. MacDonell, 150 N.J. 550, 563-64 (1997)).] Finding a breach of fiduciary duty, Judge Francis crafted an equitable ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
78 cases
  • Fassl v. Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church, 100405 PAEDC, 05-cv-0404
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 3th Circuit Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • October 4, 2005
    ...Church , 375 F.3d 951 (9th Cir. 2004); Bollard v. Cal. Province of the Soc'y of Jesus , 196 F.3d 940 (9th Cir. 1999); McKelvey v. Pierce , 800 A.2d 840 (N.J. 2002). None of these cases involved a Rule 12(b)(1) challenge to jurisdiction. In fact, in each of these cases, the courts found that......
  • 899 A.2d 316 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2006), Menorah Chapels At Millburn v. Needle
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • June 8, 2006
    ...principal and parish over Page 321 termination of employment following parochial school consolidation); see also McKelvey v. Pierce, 173 N.J. 26, 800 A.2d 840 (2002) (remanding for a determination whether former seminarian's breach of contract claims against diocese and priests could be lit......
  • Moche v. Levy, 042216 NJSUP, A-5480-13T2
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • April 22, 2016
    ...another on matters within the scope of their relationship." F.G. v. MacDonell, 150 N.J. 550, 563 (1997); see also McKelvey v. Pierce, 173 N.J. 26, 57 (2002). [13] In this case, the court actually engaged in reverse-veil-piercing, imposing the liability of an individual upon a corporati......
  • Munoz v. Perla, 122011 NJSUP, A-5922-08T3
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey
    • December 20, 2011
    ...a breach of the duties imposed by the existence of such a relationship. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 874 (1979). [ McKelvey v. Pierce, 173 N.J. 26, 57 (2002) (quoting F.G. v. MacDonell, 150 N.J. 550, 563-64 (1997)).] Finding a breach of fiduciary duty, Judge Francis crafted an equitable ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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