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04/16/97 DUANE F. AMATO v. PASTOR VERNON C.

April 16, 1997

DUANE F. AMATO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PASTOR VERNON C. GREENQUIST, AN INDIVIDUAL, BISHOP SHERMAN HICKS, AN INDIVIDUAL, METROPOLITAN CHICAGO SYNOD OF THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH OF AMERICA, AN ILLINOIS NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION, EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA A/K/A ELCA, A FOREIGN NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION, AND PEACE LUTHERAN CHURCH OF LAKE ZURICH, AN ILLINOIS NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Honorable Kenneth Gillis, Judge Presiding.

As Corrected April 28, 1997. Released for Publication June 2, 1997.

Justice Leavitt delivered the opinion of the Court. McNamara, J., and Rakowski, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leavitt

Justice Leavitt delivered the opinion of the Court:

Until late 1990, the plaintiff, Duane Amato, had thought himself a happily married man. According to a complaint he filed, he and his wife, Linda, had been married for eighteen years and had two children. In 1987, the Amatos joined Peace Lutheran Church of Lake Zurich (Peace), a fledgling parish headed by the defendant, Pastor Vernon C. Greenquist. The Amatos became active in the church, and in October 1990, Linda began "faith counseling" with Pastor Greenquist. During November 1990, the plaintiff and Linda began experiencing marital problems which were accompanied by a "religious transformation" within her. Unbeknownst to Duane, during the course of faith counseling, Linda had begun an affair with Pastor Greenquist, who was also married. On December 22, the plaintiff sought and began a course of counselling with Greenquist. Greenquist obliged Duane's request for counselling without informing him of the continuing affair with Linda.

Duane discovered the relationship between Greenquist and Linda on February 15, 1991. He notified church authorities, including the defendant, Bishop Sherman Hicks, who was Greenquist's immediate superior within the church hierarchy. Bishop Hicks suspended Greenquist, and Greenquist resigned his position with Peace. Bishop Hicks also suggested that Duane seek professional counselling. Soon after, Linda filed for a divorce from the plaintiff. Greenquist divorced his wife. Greenquist and Linda are now married.

The plaintiff's initial multi-count complaint against Greenquist alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of a fiduciary duty, clergy malpractice and common law fraud. He also sued Bishop Hicks, alleging breach of a fiduciary duty and clergy malpractice. Finally, alleging respondeat superior, he sued Peace and the institutional hierarchy of the Lutheran church, which consists of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (Met Synod) (collectively the "church defendants").

Pursuant to motions filed by all of the defendants under section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1994)), the trial judge dismissed most of the counts for varying reasons stemming from the plaintiff's failure to state causes of action, but most particularly because (1) Illinois does not recognize the tort of clergy malpractice; and (2) the relationship between cleric and parishioner is not a fiduciary one. The trial judge granted the plaintiff leave to amend, and he filed a second amended complaint consisting of 14 counts restating many of the same allegations, except that he denominated the clergy malpractice claims against Greenquist and Bishop Hicks as "psychotherapy malpractice (gross negligence)."

The church defendants and Bishop Hicks renewed their section 2-615 motions to dismiss, and the trial judge granted them in their entirety, dismissing 10 of the 14 counts of the complaint. Pastor Greenquist also renewed his section 2-615 motion to dismiss, and in a separate order the trial judge dismissed, with prejudice, all of the counts against him with the exception of that alleging common law fraud. The judge entered findings pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (134 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)), and the plaintiff seeks to overturn the dismissal, contending that he has alleged facts sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss as to each of the counts dismissed.

Because the counts at issue were dismissed pursuant to section 2-615, we review the allegations of the complaint de novo accepting as true all well-pleaded allegations and drawing all reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. T & S Signs, Inc. v. Village of Wadsworth, 261 Ill. App. 3d 1080, 1083, 634 N.E.2d 306, 199 Ill. Dec. 467 (1994). We will uphold the dismissal only if "it clearly appears that no set of facts can be proved" which will entitle the plaintiff to recover. People ex rel. Daley v. Datacom Systems Corp., 146 Ill. 2d 1, 11, 585 N.E.2d 51, 165 Ill. Dec. 655 (1991). Additional allegations pertinent to this appeal are as follows.

ELCA is "a nationwide organization of churches of the Lutheran faith." Met Synod is "the local administrative 'branch' of the ELCA and directly oversees the operation and function of ELCA churches in the Chicago area, including PEACE." Bishop Hicks is the Met Synod's principal cleric. He oversees the operations of local ELCA churches in Chicago.

Greenquist received his training as a minister and counsellor through ELCA. In 1990, he had approximately 11 years experience in preaching and counselling. His professional counselling experience included marriage counselling, faith counselling and general family counselling. Greenquist "held himself out as a skilled professional in matters of counselling." He, along with Peace and Met Synod, "encouraged [congregants] to seek counselling from the church and its clergy before seeking secular professionals in order 'to promote unity, closeness and interdependence within members of the congregation' (in accordance with stated church doctrine)." Furthermore, Greenquist "was acting within the scope and parameters of his employment duties on behalf of [the church defendants] and in furtherance of stated church doctrine when he counselled" the plaintiff.

When the plaintiff first approached Greenquist regarding marriage counselling, he had no knowledge of the ongoing relationship between Linda and Greenquist. Greenquist neither referred the plaintiff to an independent counsellor nor indicated that he would be unable to render "objective professional assistance." Rather, he "welcomed the opportunity to counsel [the plaintiff] in order to further his own personal goals *** to foster and promote his own sexual gratification, and to further undermine the marital relationship of" the Amatos. Furthermore, Greenquist revealed to Linda confidences he learned from the plaintiff during the counselling sessions in order to foster his relationship with Linda.

On March 5, 1991, the plaintiff advised Bishop Hicks of the circumstances. The plaintiff made an appointment for "counselling" with the Bishop. Linda accompanied him to this session. The plaintiff alleged that this session constituted "professional counselling." However, he also alleges that the Bishop counselled him "in furtherance of church doctrine." The Bishop acted merely to protect the interests of the church. He "took no steps to remedy the situation" and "made no effort to save the marriage." Rather, he "counselled that [the plaintiff] should get further 'professional' counselling but that Linda did not need professional counselling because she had close spiritual friends she could pray with."

In recent years, an increasing number of cases have been brought by laity against clergy alleging abuse of the cleric-parishioner relationship. The plaintiffs in these cases generally have denominated their claims "clergy malpractice." Our courts have refused to entertain such claims because the first amendment's free exercise clause prohibits courts from considering claims requiring the interpretation of religious doctrine. Baumgartner v. First Church of Christ, Scientist, 141 Ill. App. 3d 898, 904-906, 490 N.E.2d 1319, 96 Ill. Dec. 114 (1986). To permit claims for clergy malpractice would require courts to establish a standard of reasonable ...


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