Bishop Stacy Sauls, a top Episcopal Church administrator who was fired in April 2016 after a misconduct investigation exonerated him, is bringing his defamation claim against the church and 30 unnamed defendants to a new venue where experts say it belongs: New York City.
In response, the Episcopal Church is once again calling for his claims to be thrown out, as it did successfully when Sauls first brought them in Mobile, Alabama, earlier this year. Sauls is now appealing that ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court.
But in New York, the church is also challenging the merits of the case since the propriety of the venue is no longer in dispute.
In a 31-page memorandum filed Nov. 1, the church laid out for the first time its response to Sauls’s allegations. He claims a top-level, Machiavellian conspiracy at church headquarters in New York City ruined his reputation and successfully sabotaged his pursuit of new employment.
The church argues its 2015 public statement, which announced the start of a misconduct investigation and administrative leave for Sauls and two colleagues, was truthful and therefore non-defamatory.
“Plaintiff’s assertions border on the incoherent to the extent he claims that these statements were ‘intentionally misleading’ and in ‘reckless disregard of the truth,’” the church’s filing says. “Plaintiff does not plausibly allege or explain in what respect Defendants’ December 2015 Statement was either false or misleading.”
As a matter of policy, the Episcopal Church does not comment on pending litigation. Sauls’s attorney, Michael Rose, did not immediately respond to request for comment.
To a large degree, Sauls’s new complaint largely reflects the claims he filed in Mobile in January. A judge threw out the Mobile case on grounds of improper jurisdiction. But his new claim in New York, where Sauls lives, also includes some new detail and allegations.
For instance, in pursing restitution, Sauls says he has spent more than $200,000 on attorneys’ fees and costs so far. He also blames defendants for fostering “widespread rumor, accusations and speculation” that refer to possible “financial misdeeds,” “pedophilia,” and other misconduct.
“With the said conspiracy continuing daily, unabated, the wrongful acts of the Defendants have made it impossible for Plaintiff to find employment in [the Episcopal Church], anywhere,” the suit says.
In its response, the church calls on the New York court to dismiss the case on multiple grounds. It cites the pending case in Alabama as reason to keep the new suit from proceeding in New York. It also invokes legal precedent in church-and-state cases.
“This case would substantially entangle the Court in the Church’s ecclesiastical decision-making and internal self-governance,” the filing says.
It also contends that because more than a year has elapsed since the public statements first came out, Sauls should be barred under New York’s statute of limitations from seeking damages related to defamation. Sauls does not list an amount for the damages he seeks.