Hennepin County District Court File No. MP007085
Considered and decided by Toussaint , Chief Judge, Schumacher , Judge, and
A district court has subject-matter jurisdiction over claims against a church employer for negligent retention and supervision and vicarious liability based on the allegedly negligent secular counseling by its pastor when the claims can be adjudicated using neutral principles of law.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert H. Schumacher, Judge
Respondent Steven R. Odenthal sued appellant Minnesota Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists (MCSDA) for negligent retention, supervision, and training (negligent employment) and appellant Lowell Rideout for negligent counseling, intentional infliction of emotional distress, clergy malpractice, and breach of fiduciary duty. He alleged vicarious liability against MCSDA. Rideout and MCSDA moved the district court for summary judgment, seeking a dismissal of all claims. The court granted Rideout's motion as to the claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, clergy malpractice, and breach of fiduciary duty but denied Rideout's motion on the negligent counseling claim as well as the claims against MCSDA, ruling that these claims could be adjudicated without violating the First Amendment's prohibition against excessive entanglement with religion. Rideout and MCSDA appealed to this court.
This court reversed the district court, holding that resolution of the negligent counseling claim would result in an impermissible entanglement with religion. Odenthal v. Minn. Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, 632 N.W.2d 783 (Minn. App. 2001), rev'd, 649 N.W.2d 426 (Minn. 2002). The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed, affirming the district court's denial of summary judgment on the negligent counseling claim against Rideout. Odenthal v. Minn. Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, 649 N.W.2d 426 (Minn. 2002). The supreme court remanded to this court the issue of whether the district court had subject-matter jurisdiction over Odenthal's claims against MCSDA for negligent employment and vicarious liability. Id. At 443. We affirm the district court's denial of summary judgment on these claims and remand for further proceedings.
In 1997, Odenthal and his wife Diane Odenthal (Diane) sought counseling from their pastor Rideout. They met once or twice every two weeks between May and August 1997, usually at the Odenthals' home but occasionally at the church or Odenthal's office. According to Odenthal, Rideout described these meetings as marital counseling. Early on, Rideout told Odenthal that he was attracted to Diane. The Odenthals also obtained professional counseling during this period; their relationship improved and they ended the professional counseling in August 1997.
The Odenthals continued to meet with Rideout, but by February 1998, their marital relationship had deteriorated. In addition, Odenthal became concerned about the closeness of Diane and Rideout's relationship. In February 1998, Rideout included other people in the counseling sessions, including Odenthal's brother and Kathy Just, a church elder who had experience as a counselor. After several meetings, however, Just told Rideout that he was too personally involved to provide marital counseling and that the Odenthals' martial problems were very severe.
The Odenthals again sought professional counseling, and the counselor advised them to remove themselves from their relationship with Rideout. During this time, Rideout told Odenthal that he (Rideout) was Diane's"fantasy man" and that she would"run off" with him if asked.
After leaving the church for several months, the Odenthals returned and, contrary to the advice of their counselor, continued joint and individual meetings with Rideout. In May 1999, Diane and Rideout told each other they were in love. ...