Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church, No. 16-1078

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtCADY, Chief Justice.
Citation913 N.W.2d 19
Decision Date01 June 2018
Docket NumberNo. 16-1078
Parties Valerie BANDSTRA, Anne Bandstra, Ryan Bandstra, and Jason Bandstra, Appellants, v. COVENANT REFORMED CHURCH, Appellee.

913 N.W.2d 19

Valerie BANDSTRA, Anne Bandstra, Ryan Bandstra, and Jason Bandstra, Appellants,
v.
COVENANT REFORMED CHURCH, Appellee.

No. 16-1078

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Filed June 1, 2018


Roxanne Barton Conlin of Roxanne Conlin & Associates, P.C., Des Moines, for appellants.

Michael W. Thrall of Nyemaster Goode, P.C., Des Moines, and Frances M. Haas of Nyemaster Goode, P.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellee.

Eugene Volokh of Scott & Cyan Banister First Amendment Clinic at UCLA School of Law, Los Angeles, California, and Jason D. Walke of Walke Law, LLC, Waukee, for amicus curiae International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc.

CADY, Chief Justice.

913 N.W.2d 30

In this appeal, we address a number of claims within a lawsuit by two female parishioners and their spouses against a church based on claims of negligence and defamation involving sexual abuse and exploitation perpetrated on the women by the church pastor and the subsequent response by the governing body of the church. The district court granted summary judgment for the church on all claims except negligent supervision, but found the negligent-supervision claims brought by the female parishioners were barred by the statute of limitations. On appeal, we affirm the district court in part and reverse in part. We hold the Religion Clauses of our State and Federal Constitutions bar two of the negligence claims brought against the church, and the governing statute of limitations bars one parishioner’s claim of negligent supervision. We further hold the claims of defamation were properly dismissed by the district court. On remand, we direct the church to produce certain documents for in camera inspection by the district court.

I. Factual Background and Proceedings.

A. Covenant Reformed Church. Covenant Reformed Church is a religiously conservative Dutch Reformed Christian Church located in Pella, Iowa. The Church is affiliated with the United Reformed Churches in North America and seeks to "teach and preach the Christian Gospel according to the Bible and the Doctrinal Standards, namely the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dorttrecht and the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Confession and Catechism." The Church is organized as a nonprofit corporation and is governed locally by a Consistory, which is comprised of a minister of the Word and a Board of Elders.

The Board of Elders oversees the operations of the church and serves as both administrative and spiritual leaders. The board is comprised of sixteen "male confessing members" of the Church who are elected to serve by the congregation in staggered terms of three years. The Church does not require elders to complete any formal theological training or be ordained, and a male congregant need only "meet the biblical requirements for office and indicate their agreement with the Form of Subscription" to be deemed qualified to serve.

Members of the Church are expected to submit to the elders with respect to matters of doctrine and spirituality, although members understand that they ultimately submit to God. Additionally, when a baptized member of the United Reformed Churches of North America makes a profession of faith, they promise to submit to the government of the Church and to its admonition or discipline should they become delinquent in either doctrine or in their personal life.

The Church Order of the United Reformed Churches in North America describes the duties of an elder as follows:

The duties belonging to the office of elder consist of continuing in prayer and ruling the church of Christ according to the principles taught in Scripture, in order that purity of doctrine and holiness of life may be practiced. They shall
913 N.W.2d 31
see to it that their fellow-elders, the minister(s) and the deacons faithfully discharge their offices. They are to maintain the purity of the Word and Sacraments, assist in catechizing the youth, promote God-centered schooling, visit the members of the congregation according to their needs, engage in family visiting, exercise discipline in the congregation, actively promote the work of evangelism and missions, and insure that everything is done decently and in good order.

The minister of the Word is an ordained pastor who "continue[s] in prayer in the ministry of the Word, administer[s] the sacraments, catechiz[es] the youth, and assist[s] the elders in the shepherding and discipline of the congregation." In order to serve as a minister of the Word, a candidate must demonstrate his "thoroughly reformed theological education," including

his knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, both in the original languages and in English translations, of the Three Forms of Unity, of Christian doctrine, Christian ethics and church history; of the Church Order, and of his knowledge and aptitude with regard to the particular duties and responsibilities of the minister of the Word, especially the preparation and preaching of sermons.

Further, a candidate’s personal life is examined. Once a minister of the Word is publically ordained before the congregation, he is "bound to the service of the churches for life and may change the nature of his labor only for weighty reasons, upon approval by his supervising council with the concurring advice of classis." However, the Church may remove a minister of the Word if the "pastoral relationship has been irreconcilably broken, and a minister of the Word or the council of the congregation he is serving desires to dissolve their pastoral relationship."

The Board of Elders is responsible for supervising the Church’s pastor. Supervising a pastor is not a matter of doctrine and is a secular administrative function of the board. The board supervises the pastor by (1) "discuss[ing] the preaching of the Word and mak[ing] sure it coincides with the Holy Bible," (2) having "meetings twice a month [to] interact with [the pastor], [and] discuss things that need to be discussed," and (3) "go[ing] on what [the board] call[s] house visitation calls and [asking] the parishioners how the pastor is pastoring them and whether there [are] concerns or recommendations that [the board] can do to improve things."

B. Plaintiffs and Pastor Edouard’s Sexual Exploitation. In 2003, the Church called Patrick Edouard to be its pastor and minister of the Word. Edouard was respected and considered a "dynamic" and "very talented speaker."

Valerie Bandstra and her husband, Jason, were members of the Church at the time Edouard arrived. In 2005, Valerie and Jason were struggling with infertility, which was taking an emotional toll on Valerie. Upon learning of her struggles, Edouard began making unsolicited phone calls to Valerie’s cell phone, inquiring into her personal life and fertility. In 2006, Valerie and Jason were in the process of seeking an international adoption, and Valerie decided to seek counseling from Edouard to help her cope. Edouard invited Valerie to come see him "at his study," which was in the basement of his home.

When Valerie arrived for her first counseling session, Edouard showed her to his study in the basement. Edouard locked the door and began inquiring into Valerie’s personal struggles. Edouard inquired into whether Jason was "meeting [her] needs," then proceeded to grope and kiss her. The two then engaged in sexual intercourse, and Valerie has consistently maintained

913 N.W.2d 32

the sex was against her will. Following the encounter, Edouard continued to call Valerie and insist her husband was not meeting her needs. He informed Valerie her emotional struggles stemmed from "sexual frustration" and unhappiness in marriage. Edouard urged Valerie that he was "protect[ing]" her by helping her release her sexual energy. Additionally, Edouard urged Valerie that he believed God brought them together so she could use her good fortune to help him. Edouard asked for, and Valerie ultimately loaned him, $70,000.

In October 2009, Valerie’s sister, Patty, confided in Valerie that Edouard had tried to kiss her during a counseling session. Once Valerie learned what Edouard had done to her sister, she realized he

was using his pastoral position and basically the trust that people put in him as a pastor to counsel and to basically recruit women to be counseling candidates so he could get them into a position of trust and vulnerability for the very purpose of abusing them.

Soon after the conversation, Valerie called Edouard and told him he was using his position as pastor under the guise of counseling to have sexual relationships with women. Valerie then broke off contact with Edouard, although she did not inform the Church or the police of his conduct out of fear of retribution or not being believed.

Anne Bandstra and her husband, Ryan (Jason’s brother), were also members of the Church when Edouard was called to be pastor in 2003. In 2008, Anne was going through a difficult time. She felt overwhelmed by a recent death in the family, marital problems, and her special needs child. Anne had been prescribed antidepressant and anxiety medications, which she was taking.

In April 2008, Edouard contacted Anne and suggested she counsel with him. Edouard invited Anne to his basement study and locked the door. He inquired into her...

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24 practice notes
  • Nunes v. Lizza, No. 19-CV-4064-CJW-MAR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • August 5, 2020
    ...factor we consider is the broader social context into which the alleged defamatory statement fits. Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church , 913 N.W.2d 19, 47 (Iowa 2018) (alterations, citations, and internal quotation marks omitted). California courts engage in a "totality of the circumstance......
  • Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Inc. v. Reynolds ex rel. State, 21-0856
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 17, 2022
    ...III. Standard of Review. We review summary judgment rulings for correction of errors at law. Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church, 913 N.W.2d 19, 36 (Iowa 2018). "Whether the elements of issue preclusion are satisfied is a question of law." Id. (quoting Winger v. CM Holdings, L.L.C., 881 N.......
  • Nelle v. Who Television, LLC, 4:17-cv-00107
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • October 18, 2018
    ...if they imply a provable false fact, or rely upon stated facts that are provably false ." Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church , 913 N.W.2d 19, 47 (Iowa 2018) (emphasis added) (quoting Yates , 721 N.W.2d at 771 ); see also ECF No. 50 at 21–22. "Even if the speaker states the facts upon whic......
  • Nunes v. Lizza, No. 20-CV-4003-CJW-MAR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • September 11, 2020
    ...factor we consider is the broader social context into which the alleged defamatory statement fits. Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church , 913 N.W.2d 19, 47 (Iowa 2018) (alterations, citations, and internal quotation marks omitted). In construing the context of the statement, Iowa courts con......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
24 cases
  • Nunes v. Lizza, No. 19-CV-4064-CJW-MAR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • August 5, 2020
    ...factor we consider is the broader social context into which the alleged defamatory statement fits. Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church , 913 N.W.2d 19, 47 (Iowa 2018) (alterations, citations, and internal quotation marks omitted). California courts engage in a "totality of the circumstance......
  • Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, Inc. v. Reynolds ex rel. State, 21-0856
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 17, 2022
    ...III. Standard of Review. We review summary judgment rulings for correction of errors at law. Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church, 913 N.W.2d 19, 36 (Iowa 2018). "Whether the elements of issue preclusion are satisfied is a question of law." Id. (quoting Winger v. CM Holdings, L.L.C., 881 N.......
  • Nelle v. Who Television, LLC, 4:17-cv-00107
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
    • October 18, 2018
    ...if they imply a provable false fact, or rely upon stated facts that are provably false ." Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church , 913 N.W.2d 19, 47 (Iowa 2018) (emphasis added) (quoting Yates , 721 N.W.2d at 771 ); see also ECF No. 50 at 21–22. "Even if the speaker states the facts upon whic......
  • Nunes v. Lizza, No. 20-CV-4003-CJW-MAR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • September 11, 2020
    ...factor we consider is the broader social context into which the alleged defamatory statement fits. Bandstra v. Covenant Reformed Church , 913 N.W.2d 19, 47 (Iowa 2018) (alterations, citations, and internal quotation marks omitted). In construing the context of the statement, Iowa courts con......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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