APPEAL FROM COURT OF APPEALS NO. 2016-CA-000459-OA JEFFERSON
CIRCUIT COURT NO. 15-CI-002975
COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: John O. Sheller Stoll Keenon Ogden,
PLLC Steven Clark Stoll Keenon Ogden, PLLC
COUNSEL FOR REAL PARTY IN INTEREST: Roger Dale Warren
the Presbyterian Church, appeals from the Court of
Appeals' order granting in part and denying in part its
petition for a writ to prohibit the trial court from lifting
its stay of discovery. The Court of Appeals granted the writ
to the extent the trial court should limit discovery to that
which was necessary to determine whether the church was
entitled to ecclesiastical immunity. For the following
reasons, we affirm the Court of Appeals' order.
Presbyterian Ministry Agency (PMA) hired Reverend Eric Hoey
as the Director of Evangelism and Church Growth. During his
tenure in that position, Hoey acted with other ministers to
incorporate an entity separate and apart from the church.
Church funds were transferred to the newly-created entity
without authorization. The church issued a written warning to
Hoey regarding his actions. This warning included findings
that Hoey failed to properly manage ministers under his
supervision, failed to timely inform his supervisors that he
incorporated the entity without authorization, and that Hoey
contributed to a culture of non-compliance with PMA and
church reported the disciplinary action to Hoey's
Presbytery. That notification indicated that Hoey had known
about the incorporation and approved a transfer of grant
money without ensuring that the church's incorporation
criteria were followed. The notification made it clear,
however, that Hoey never intended to personally benefit from
the funds and that all grant funds were returned. In addition
to this disclosure made to the Presbytery, the church also
released general information about the incorporation and
dissolution of the entity to the denomination.
church placed Hoey on paid administrative leave for more than
six months before terminating his employment. After his
termination, Hoey filed a complaint in Jefferson Circuit
Court alleging the church defamed him by reporting to
independent Presbyterian news agencies and other third
parties that he had "committed ethical violations."
The church filed a motion for summary judgment. Hoey did not
respond to that motion, but, instead, served the church
status hearing, the church argued to the trial court that
Hoey should not be entitled to discovery until the court
ruled on its ecclesiastical-abstention and
ministerial-exception defenses. The trial court disagreed
with the church and ordered it to respond to Hoey's
discovery requests within twenty days.
the trial court's discovery ruling, the church petitioned
the Court of Appeals for a writ, arguing the trial court had
essentially abrogated its immunity by forcing it to
participate in discovery without first making a threshold
immunity determination. The church also asked the Court of
Appeals to consider (for the first time) the issue of its
immunity and to dismiss the underlying action on those
grounds. The Court of Appeals granted the writ in part,
holding the trial court had abused its discretion in allowing
broad-reaching discovery, but denied the writ insofar as it
would allow discovery related to the immunity issue. The
Court of Appeals did not rule on the immunity issue. The
church appeals, arguing the Court of Appeals' order did
not go far enough. We disagree.
issuance of a writ is an extraordinary remedy, and we have
always been cautious and conservative in granting such
relief. Grange Mut. Ins. v. Trude, 151 S.W.3d 803,
808 (Ky. 2004). The standard for granting petitions for writs
of prohibition and mandamus is the same. Mahoney v.
McDonald- Burkman, 320 S.W.3d 75, 77 n.2 (Ky.
2010) (citing Martin v. Admin. Office of
Courts, 107 S.W.3d 212, 214 (Ky. 2003)). This Court
set forth that standard in Hoskins v. Maricle:
A writ . . . may be granted upon a showing that (1) the lower
court is proceeding or is about to proceed outside of its
jurisdiction and there is no remedy through an application to
an intermediate court; or (2) that the lower court is acting
or is about to act erroneously, although within its
jurisdiction, and there exists no adequate remedy by appeal
or otherwise and great injustice and irreparable injury will
result if the petition is not granted.
150 S.W.3d 1, 10 (Ky. 2004). Here, there is no argument that
the lower court lacked jurisdiction. Therefore, this case
falls under the second class of writ, which requires that
there be (1) no adequate remedy by appeal and (2) great
injustice and irreparable injury.
present case, the church has satisfied the initial
requirement of no adequate remedy by appeal, as "[o]nce
the information is furnished it cannot be recalled."
Bender v. Eaton, 343 S.W.2d 799, 802 (Ky. 1961).
However, the church falls short of meeting the "great
and irreparable injury" prong of that test. In
Bender, our predecessor court stated:
Compelling a party, in advance of trial, to produce for the
benefit of his adversary information or evidence, even
assuming he should not be required to produce it under the
Rules, probably would not constitute 'great and
irreparable injury' within the meaning of that
phrase." However, ... in a certain class of cases, of
which this is one, the showing of such grievous injury is not
an absolute necessity. . . . [I]f an erroneous order results
in a substantial miscarriage of justice and the orderly
administration of our Civil Rules necessitates an expression
of our views, we may, and in the proper case should, decide
the issue presented.
Id. "This Court has consistently recognized an
exception to the irreparable harm requirement in 'certain
special cases."' Ridgeway Nursing & Rehab.
Facility, LLC v. Lane, 415 S.W.3d 635, 639-40 (Ky.
2013). In such cases, this Court will entertain the petition
"provided a substantial miscarriage of justice will
result if the lower court is proceeding erroneously,
and correction of the error is necessary and
appropriate in the interest of orderly judicial
administration." Bender, 343 S.W.2d at 801. We
review writs under the "certain special cases"
exception de novo. Grange, 151 S.W.3d at 810.
that precedent in mind, we will determine if a substantial
miscarriage of justice will result if the trial court's
ruling regarding discovery is erroneous and if the correction
of that ...