Appeals court revives high school teacher’s lawsuit against archdiocese

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A gay teacher who sued the Archdiocese of Indianapolis after he was terminated from his teaching position at Cathedral High School has been given another chance to make his case after the Court of Appeals of Indiana found the trial court committed reversible error in dismissing the lawsuit.

The ruling from the unanimous appellate panel revives the complaint filed by Joshua Payne-Elliott, who was fired after teaching at Cathedral for 13 years because he married his same-sex partner.

In Joshua Payne-Elliott v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Inc., the Court of Appeals found the Marion Superior Court committed three reversible errors. Specifically, the COA ruled the trial court erred by summarily dismissing Payne-Elliott’s complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; failing to treat the Archdiocese’s motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment; and dismissing Payne-Elliott’s complaint with prejudice.

Payne-Elliott had raised only the first two issues in his appeal. The Court of Appeals on its own addressed whether the trial court erred in dismissing the case with prejudice.

As the appellate panel explained, when the trial court dismissed Payne-Elliott’s claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, this meant the court lacked the power to reach the merits. Yet in also dismissing the claims with prejudice, the trial court was adjudicating the case on the merits.

“Because dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction cannot be ‘with prejudice,’ the trial court’s entry of dismissal with prejudice was improper,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the court.

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

This story will be updated.

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