Life is different in a private school….

Before we address substantive matters, can we all just bow our heads and express gratitude for OCTOBER!!  This is everyone’s favorite month, is it not? The weather is nice.  In northern climes the leaves turn to all manner of color.  Major football games occur. The World Series.  There is much to love about this month, and I’m pleased to kick it off Behind the Pine Cone Curtain in Region 7.

Now…as to our legal topic today.  It seems the litigious Doe family sometimes enrolls a child in a private school. The Doe Family is notorious for the volume and the scope of litigation they are involved in.  The Does file suit over religion, sex and other hot topics. But in this case, the dispute was over the expulsion of a high school student from the Episcopal School of Dallas.

Since this took place at a private school, the Does could not assert any claims under the U.S. Constitution.  Private schools are not encumbered by the Constitution, and thus are not required to respect freedom of speech or to provide due process of law.  But that did not deter the Does from asserting 12 (Count ‘Em-12!!) possible causes of action, to wit: 1) breach of fiduciary duty; 2) aiding and abetting fiduciary breaches; 3) breach of express warranties under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act; 4) negligent misrepresentation; 5) fraud; 6) negligent hiring and supervision; 7) negligence and gross negligence; 8) tortious interference with a contract; 9) breach of contract; 10) promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, money had and received/assumpsit; 11) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and 12) respondeat superior and vicarious liability.

The Court of Appeals ruled on none of that. Instead, the court held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the case because such consideration would have interfered with the management of the affairs of a faith-based institution.  This ruling relied on the “ecclesiastical abstention doctrine.”  That doctrine is designed to protect the free exercise of religion by keeping the courts out of church business.

The case arose from the expulsion of young Mr. Doe.  The parents asserted that the expulsion was illegal for the above cited 12 reasons. In a nutshell, they argued that the boy was treated unfairly and differently than other students who had committed similar infractions. The Court bypassed all of that, rising above the fray:

The facts, however, conclusively establish that this dispute derives solely from the calculus of the school’s internal policies and management of its internal affairs, all directed at the school’s decision regarding whether Doe should be a member of the school community. Thus, this dispute fits entirely within the parameters of a dispute for which the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine applies.

The case is In Re: The Episcopal School of Dallas, Inc., decided by the Court of Appeals in Dallas on October 11, 2017. We found it at 2017 WL 4533800.


 Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday and goofs by the ARD Committee