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Lee v. Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church of Pittsburg

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 22, 2017

REV. DR. WILLIAM DAVID LEE, Plaintiff,
v.
SIXTH MOUNT ZION BAPTIST CHURCH OF PITTSBURG d/b/a SIXTH MOUNT ZION MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Nora Barry Fischer, United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case involves an employment dispute between a Pastor and the Church that hired him to lead it and then terminated his employment. Specifically, Rev. Dr. William David Lee (“Plaintiff, ” “Rev. Lee” or “Pastor”) sued for breach of a written contract of employment, naming as defendants the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church of Pittsburg[1] d/b/a the Sixth Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church (“Defendant” or “the “Church”), as well as eleven of its deacons, whom he sued individually.[2] (Docket No. 1). Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 76). The Court held argument on the matter on May 12, 2017. (Docket No. 92).[3]

         Plaintiff's Motion has been fully briefed by the parties in accordance with Local Rule 56. After reviewing the filings of the parties, including the Complaint, the Church's Amended Answer, Lee's Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support, the Church's Response in Opposition, Lee's Concise Statement of Material Facts, the Church's Responsive Concise Statement of Material Facts, and the transcript of oral argument, and considering the standards for granting such a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(b) and the matters addressed before the Court at the hearing on May 12, 2017, including matters raised and addressed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f), namely application of the ministerial exception under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and excessive entanglement under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, Plaintiff's motion will be denied and this matter will be dismissed for the following reasons.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[4]

         The Court must first address a matter regarding the parties' filings related to the concise statement of facts before addressing the relevant facts for purposes of the motion for summary judgment. Lee, as the moving party, filed his concise statement of material facts. The Church, as the nonmoving party, responded admitting certain facts, denying certain facts, and providing its own concise statement of facts in response with supporting documentation. Lee, for whatever reason, did not file any response to the Church's concise statement of facts.

         Local Civil Rule of Court 56.B.1 requires that the party moving for summary judgment file a separate concise statement of material facts and that the party cite “to a particular pleading, deposition, answer to interrogatory, admission on file or other part of the record supporting the party's statement, acceptance, or denial of the material fact.” LCvR 56.B.1. The moving party also must file an appendix with the documents supporting that party's concise statement of material facts. LCvR 56.B.3. The opposing party is to provide a separately filed concise statement admitting or denying the facts in the moving party's concise statement, LCvR 56.C.1.a, setting forth the basis for any denial with reference to the record, LCvR 56.C.1.b, and providing any additional material facts that are necessary for the court's ruling on the motion. LCvR 56.C.1.c. Local Civil Rule of Court 56.E specifically provides that the facts claimed to be undisputed and material in “the moving party's Concise Statement of Material Facts or in the opposing party's Responsive Concise Statement, which are claimed to be undisputed, will for the purpose of deciding the motion for summary judgment be deemed admitted unless specifically denied or otherwise controverted by a separate concise statement of the opposing party.” LCvR 56.E (emphasis added).

         The Church supported their concise statements of fact with sufficient evidentiary materials in their appendix in support of their denials and their stated facts, (Docket Nos. 115, 121), in compliance with Local Civil Rule of Court 56.B.1 and 56.B.3. Rev. Lee, however, did not respond to the Church's supported statement of facts. Under these circumstances, in accordance with Local Civil Rule of Court 56.E, and for purposes of the present motion for summary judgment, the Church's Fact Nos. 23-49 provided in its response to Lee's Facts and the additional facts provided in response to Lee's Fact Nos. 6, 7, 11 and 13 will be deemed admitted by Rev. Lee. See 714 Ventures, Inc. v. Nat'l Oilwell Varco, L.P., No. CV 15-925, 2016 WL 5919934, at *1 n. 1 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 11, 2016) (deeming facts admitted for violation of Local Rule 56.E).

         According to the Complaint and Charter of Incorporation attached as Exhibit A to the Complaint, the Church is a longstanding church in Pittsburgh, received its original Charter of Incorporation in 1915, (Docket No. 1, Ex. A), and is overseen by its Pastor and Deacon Board. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 19). On December 1, 2012 the Deacon Board recommended Rev. Lee for the position of Pastor. (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 1; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 1). The Church's Findings Committee presented a “Point-by-Point Report” on Rev. Lee and the Church's Pulpit Committee recommended Rev. Lee for the position of “Pastor of the Church” at a December 1, 2012, meeting called by the Findings Committee. (Docket No. 83 at ¶¶ 2, 3 & Ex. A; Docket No. 87 at ¶¶ 2, 3). On December 12, 2012, the Church voted unanimously to accept Rev. Lee as Pastor of the Church, (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 4 & Ex. A [76-3 at 2, 5]; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 4). On or about March 2013, the Church retained the legal services of Attorney Candace Ragin (“Attorney Ragin”) of the Law Firm of Candace Ragin, LLC, to provide various legal services to the Church, including the drafting of an agreement between the Board of Deacons and the Church's new Pastor, Rev. Lee, regarding his employment (“Employment Agreement” or “contract”). (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 5 & Ex. C; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 5). On March 20, 2013, the Employment Agreement was executed by Rev. Lee, Timothy Ralston, then Chairman of the Church's Deacon Board, and Jimmy Barley, then Trustee of the Church. (Docket No. 83 at ¶¶ 6, 11 & Ex. C; Docket No. 87 at ¶¶ 6, 11, 23). The parties understood and agreed that the Church congregation (“the Congregation”) had to approve the Employment Agreement in order for it to become effective. (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 6; Docket No. 87 at ¶¶ 6, 24; Docket No. 88-1 E).

         The Employment Agreement[5] contains the following pertinent provisions:

         2. Employment and Duties

         The pastor's duties and responsibilities under this Agreement (“Pastoral Duties and Responsibilities”) are as follows:

2.1 The pastor will perform all duties assigned to him by the Church from time to time, including but not limited to . . . sacerdotal functions and administrative duties . . . .
2.2 The pastor shall devote such of his time and energies as may be necessary for the performance of all Pastoral Duties and Responsibilities.
2.3 As the church finds its headship under the Lord Jesus Christ and in its pastor, the pastor will be the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Board and has sole authority and control of hiring/firing and supervising all Church's paid staff.
Pursuant to his supervisory authority, the pastor will also oversee and govern the invitation of any speaker, teacher, or minister to any meeting or gathering held by the Church. . . .
2.4 The Pastor will be the ex-officio chairm[an] of the Church Board of Deacons, and ex-officio chairm[an] of all standing Church boards, auxiliaries and/or committees throughout the term of this Agreement. . . .
2.5 The pastor shall lead the pastoral ministries of the Church and shall work with the Deacons and Church staff in achieving the Church's mission of proclaiming the Gospel to believers and unbelievers. The pastor shall be a member of the Church, and serve as moderator at business meetings of the members.
3. Term and Renewal
3.1 The initial term of this agreement shall be for a period of twenty (20) years, beginning on December 1, 2012 and expiring on December 31, 2013 (“Initial Term”), subject to the termination provisions of this Agreement.
3.2 Unless the Church, after congregational vote, notifies the pastor in writing, at least (90) days before the expiration of the Initial Term that the Church does not desire to extend the terms of the Agreement, the terms of this Agreement shall automatically extend for an additional period of ten (10) years.

         7. REPRESENTATIONS AND WARRANTIES

         Dr. Lee warrants and represents that he:

a) Is a minister of the gospel in compliance with the requirements of Church and in compliance with federal, state and local laws;
b) Is an experienced pastor, having pastor [sic] churches other than the Church and is qualified to serve as the pastor of the Church;
c) Will abide by the employment policies and procedures existing or established by the Church from time to time; and
d) Will attend all regularly scheduled Church meetings and other official job functions unless illness or emergency makes attendance impossible or impractical.
11. Equitable Relief
The parties agree that each of the terms of paragraphs 7 through 11 above is a material term of this Agreement which is intended to be for the Church's benefit and enforceable directly by the Church. Pastor agrees that in the event of his breach of any of the provisions of paragraphs 7 through 11 above, any remedy at law (including money damages) is insufficient to protect the Church's interests and the Church will be entitled to specific performance hereof or injunctive relief against Pastor, or both, in addition to money damages or other relief to which the Church may be entitled, and Pastor further waives any requirement for the securing or posting of any bond in connection with obtaining such equitable relief.
12. Termination
12.1 Automatic Termination: This Agreement will automatically terminate, and any further obligations of the parties excused, upon the fling of . . .bankruptcy by or against either party, an assignment for the benefit of creditors by either party, or the appointment of a receiver over the business affairs of either party. . . [and] upon the death of the pastor.
12.2 Termination without Cause: At any time after March 9, 2013 either party may terminate this Agreement upon ninety (90) days written notice without cause.
If this Agreement is terminated by the Church without cause, the pastor shall be entitled to receive the salary and benefits . . . he would otherwise be entitled to receive for the unexpired term of this Agreement . . ., but reduced after five (5) years from the date of Termination by the amount of the Pastor's salary from any other employment for that period. The payments shall be in full settlement of any claims the pastor may have against the Church.
12.3 Termination for Cause: This Agreement may be terminated at the option of either party upon thirty (30) days prior written notice by either party of the material breach of the terms of this Agreement by the other party, which breach is not cured within such thirty (30) days. The rights of termination set forth in this contract are in addition to any other rights of termination allowed to either party by law. Without limiting other rights or grounds for termination which the Church may have under this Agreement or by law, it is agreed that the Church may terminate this Agreement for cause upon the occurrence of any of the following events:
i. The pastor commits any serious moral or criminal offense (“serious offense”)-including but not limited to adultery, embezzlement, or fraud-is convicted of a felony, or commits any other act which is a violation of applicable law (except for misdemeanors or traffic offenses); or
ii. The pastor becomes incapacitated by reason of illness, injury or other disability . . . .
12.4 Procedural Requirements: If this Agreement is proposed to be terminated by the Church for cause as a result of the Pastor committing any serious offense, the matter must be brought before the Church Deacon Board. If the Board recommends a termination of this Agreement for cause based on any serious offense, the recommendation must be presented to the congregation of the Church and put to a vote during a special meeting called for that purpose. In such event, this Agreement may be terminated only upon the approval of the congregation.
The associate pastor or such other person as may be designated by the Deacon Board will chair the congregational meeting, and the order of business at such meeting will be as follows: 1) roll call; 2) presentation of evidence by the personnel Committee chair or its designee; 3) presentation of case by the pastor or his designee; 4) rebuttal evidence presented by the Deacon Board; 5) testimony from members of the congregation; and 6) the matter shall be put to a vote.
16. Entire Agreement
This Agreement contains the entire agreement between Dr. Lee and the Church, and supersedes any and all other agreements, written or oral, express or implied, pertaining to the subject matter hereof.
No supplements, modifications or amendments of this Agreement shall be binding unless executed in writing by the parties.
18. General Provisions
The waiver of either of the Parties of a breach or violation of any provision of this Agreement shall not operate as or be construed to be a waiver of any subsequent breach hereof. This Agreement constitutes the product of negotiations of the parties hereto and any enforcement hereof will be interpreted in a neutral manner and not more strongly for [sic] against any party based upon the source of the draftsmanship hereof. If any provision of this Agreement shall be held invalid or unenforceable by a court of competent jurisdiction, the remaining provisions hereof shall continue to be fully effective.
19. GOVERNING LAW
This Agreement shall be construed and governed in all respects in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

(Docket No. 76-3 at 19-26).

         The Employment Agreement was presented to the Church at the Call of the Church Congregation on April 7, 2013. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 25; [Ex. 11 to Defendant's Ex. A, “April 7, 2013 minutes”]). At this meeting, members of the Congregation inquired as to the terms of the Agreement, including the conditions providing for termination. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 25; April 7, 2013 minutes). The Congregation's approval of the Employment Agreement was based on statements and promises made by Dr. Lee that if he was not performing his job, that would constitute cause for termination under the Agreement.” (Docket No. 87 at ¶¶ 7; 26; April 7, 2013 minutes). Specifically, Dr. Lee represented to the Congregation regarding the Employment Agreement they were considering whether to vote to approve that:

If the church is not going in the direction that we think the church ought to go, if the church declines and the church is just dying, that's cause, because it is my Pastor responsibility and duty to make sure that the church grows and the church becomes better than the way I received it.

(Docket No. 87 at ¶ 27, 28; April 7, 2013 minutes; Rev. Lee Depo at 74) (emphasis added). Rev. Lee further represented to the Congregation that:

But if just [sic] want to get used to the money and some do, then you have a right, because there is a clause that says that just cause, because the church is not growing, the church is stagnant, the church is not a better place. You have right to call for these Deacons and any member of the church to have me to vacate the pulpit.

(Docket No. 87 at ¶ 29; April 7, 2013 Minutes). Rev. Lee further stated on just cause:

The clause says, if I don't perform my duties well, I'm out. Help me out, I'm giving you a clause to make sure you'll don't get stuck with somebody you don't want, it's in there.

(Docket No. 87 at ¶ 31; April 7, 2013 Minutes). After initial equivocating in his deposition on September 27, 2016, Rev. Lee ultimately admitted making these statements. (Docket No. 87 at ¶¶ 28, 30, 32).

         The resolution approving the Employment Agreement provides that the Congregation resolved to approve it and resolved that the Pastor's duties and responsibilities under it are “subject at all times to the ultimate control and direction of the Church via its congregation.” (Docket No. 76-3, Ex. B at 11 (sections 5 and 6(a)). The resolution approving the Employment Agreement also provides under section 6(c) that the “Church finds its headship under the Lord Jesus Christ and in its Pastor” and under section 6(e) that the “Pastor is the leader of pastoral ministries of the Church. He will work with the Deacons and the Church staff in achieving its mission and proclaiming the Gospel to believers and unbelievers.” The Resolution provides under section 2 that the “Deacons shall serve dual status as Deacons and Trustees.” Finally, the Resolution provides in section 3 that the “Pastor-elect and Deacon board will draft [a] new constitution and by-laws that will align with God's Word to be presented to the church for review to be approved and adopted by this local body of believers.” Ultimately, the Church Congregation approved the Employment Agreement at the Church Call meeting on April 7, 2013. (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 7; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 7).

         Subsequently, at a Church meeting on April 28, 2013, Rev. Lee further stated to the Congregation:

the church has the final say in this way. If I am not doing my job and the church is suffering, the church has every right to make sure it protects the church, because you don't want the church to die. Now if you want to do it in spite of the church doing what church is doing and we are doing well, no you can't, that where the employment clause came in without cause.

(Docket No. 87 at ¶ 33; [Exhibit 13 to Defendant's Ex. A, “April 28, 2013 Minutes”]).

         In the governing structure of the Church, the Deacons are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the Church and the Trustees are responsible for its financial well-being. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 39). On or about March, 2014, the second year of Rev. Lee's tenure as Pastor, a joined Board of Deacons and Trustees began to make serious inquiry about four things with respect to Lee's leadership of the Church. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 38; Taylor Depo. at 5-6). The level of giving to the Church in terms of tithes, offerings, and donations diminished appreciably from the point of Rev. Lee's initial tenure in December of 2012 to that of 2014. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 40; Taylor Depo. at 6). For example, from November of 2013 to November of 2014 tithes and offerings diminished 39% and attendance at morning worship dropped 32% (Docket No. 87 at ¶¶ 41, 42; Def. Ex. C; Taylor Depo. at 6). From January 2013 through December 2014, there was a 61% decrease in registered members of the Church. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 43; Def. Ex. C; Taylor Depo. at 14-15 and Ex. E, App'x. Ex. C). Rev. Lee had decided but failed to follow through with taking over training the deacons. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 44). Church expenditures nearly doubled from 2013 to 2014 and Church expenditures were exceeding Church receipts, rapidly eroding the Church's credit base. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 45; Taylor Deposition at 74-75).

         From the first year of Rev. Lee's tenure to the second year, the quality of the Church's community outreach and ministries declined. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 46; Taylor Deposition at 74). The Church's hallmark program of service to the community is its SEED program. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 47; Taylor Deposition at 75-78). Funds from the SEED program were diverted to pay for necessary Church expenditures as opposed to furthering the SEED ministry. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 47; Taylor Deposition at 75-78). Although Rev. Lee set a number of meetings of the Church membership between June and December, 2014 for the purpose of discussing financial and ministerial issues, he cancelled all of them. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 48; Taylor Deposition at 84-86). Financial contributions, the Church's registered membership, and worship attendance all declined during Rev. Lee's tenure. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 49; Lee Depo at 134, 136, App. Ex. A; Taylor Deposition at 84-86).

         On or about December 21, 2014, the Church organized a meeting of the Congregation at which it was recommended that the Congregation vote to have Rev. Lee vacate the pulpit immediately, void the Pastor's employment contact, and approve suggested severance terms. (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 16; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 16; Plaintiffs Ex. E at 2). The following reasons were presented in support of the recommendation: failures in financial stewardship, failures in spiritual stewardship, and failures to respond to church leaders. (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 17; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 17; Plaintiffs Exhibit E at 2). Regarding asserted failures in spiritual stewardship, the written recommendations list under “Findings B:”

         the “DIMINISHED CAPACITY TO FULFILL THE GREAT MISSION, Matt 28:19-20:

• to attract new souls to Christ,
• to cultivate new ambassadors for Christ, and
• to transform families, neighborhoods, and the city for Christ.

(Docket No. 76-4 at 9). The written recommendations also profile “New MEMBERS JOINING AND RECEIVING THE RIGHT HAND OF FELLOWSHIP.” (Docket No. 76-4 at 10). The written recommendations further contain:

         REFLECTIONS ON OUR CAPACITY TO FULFILL THE GREAT MISSION, Matt. 28: 19-20:

to attract new souls to Christ: . . . We would characterize this as a dramatic decline in attracting new souls for Christ.
to cultivate new ambassadors for Christ: . . . Our overall judgment is that our capacity to cultivate new ambassadors for Christ has grown progressively more negative than positive over the two years of Pastor Lee's leadership.
to transform families, neighborhoods, and the city for Christ. . . . We conclude Pastor Lee has failed during both years to launch and sustain ministries that help to transform local and public places where our children and families live.
Our prediction for the future under Pastor Lee's leadership is summarized in the following graph: [depicting failing spiritual stewardship leading to failing financial stewardship and the Church in continual decline, resulting in a diminished capacity “to Fulfill the Great Commission.”].

(Docket No. 76-4 at 13). The document then addresses “Findings C: Pastor's Failure to Provide Vital Information Requested by Church Leaders.” (Docket No. 76-4 at 13). The document concludes with recommendations by the Board of Deacons and the Board of Trustees that Rev. Lee vacate the pulpit immediately, and that the Church void the pastor's employment contract further based on the “‘Voice of Precedence, ' ‘The Voice of Sovereignty:' The church under Baptist polity is sovereign and the church has the final word by vote on the matter, and the ‘Voice of the Pastor' wherein he stated to the congregation that “if the church declines and the church is not going in the direction that we think the church ought to go, if the church declines and the church is just dying, that's a cause [for breaking the contract]. . . . even in Pastor Lee's own words.” (Docket No. 76-4 at 16).

         Three weeks later, a second meeting of the Congregation was convened at which time it was recommended that the Congregation vote to have Rev. Lee vacate the pulpit immediately, void the Pastor's employment contact, and approve suggested severance terms. (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 16; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 16; Plaintiff's Ex. E at 2). The following reasons again were presented in support of the recommendation: failures in financial stewardship, failures in spiritual stewardship, and failures to respond to church leaders.[6] (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 17; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 17; Plaintiff's Exhibit E at 2). The Church voted affirmatively for Lee to vacate the pulpit immediately, to void the Pastor's employment contract, and to approve suggested severance terms on the basis of Lee's failures in financial stewardship, failures in spiritual stewardship, and failures to respond to church leaders. (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 19; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 19; Plaintiff's Exhibit F [Jerome Taylor Deposition] at 88-89). Accordingly, on January 11, 2015, the Church terminated Lee's employment as Pastor of the Church. (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 20; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 20; Plaintiff's Exhibit E at 2).

         The Employment Agreement provides that its initial term would commence on December 1, 2012, and would expire on December 31, 2032. ((Docket No. 83 at ¶ 8; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 8). Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 21, 31, Ex. B at § 3, p. 2; Ex. D to Motion at 3.1). Nevertheless, it also provides that the Church, adhering to certain procedures and substantive requirements, may terminate the Plaintiff with cause and without cause. (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 9; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 9; Exhibit D at 12.2 and 12.3).

         Section 12 of the Contract states various terms and conditions governing termination of the Pastor's employment, (Docket No.1 at ¶¶ 22, 23, 29, 30, Ex. B at §12, p. 5-7), including that either party could terminate the agreement with or without cause but with certain contractual consequences. (Docket No. 1, Ex. B at §§ 12.2 & 12.3). (Docket No. 83 at ¶ 9; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 9).

         This Court observed in its opinion granting judgment on the pleadings to the individual defendants:

The Contract further provides that “[t]he rights of termination set forth in this contract are in addition to any other rights of termination allowed to either party by law.” (Docket No. 1, Ex. B at § 12.3). Lee's Complaint alleges that termination of his employment as Pastor of the Church was without cause as cause is defined more fully in the Contract. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 37, and Ex. B, § 12.3 (i) & (ii)). Lee filed a single count action for breach of contract against all defendants, seeking payment of $2, 643, 996.40, plus costs of suit and attorney's fees under the Contract.

(Docket No. 1 at 11). The Church defended the breach of contract claim by asserting that Lee was terminated for cause and numerous other defenses to his claim. (Docket No. 71).

         III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On September 9, 2015, Rev. Lee commenced this diversity action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (Docket No. 1). All defendants moved to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) for improper venue. (Docket No. 2). In opposition to the motion, Rev. Lee requested that the District Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406 transfer the action to the Western District of Pennsylvania because the individual defendants all reside within the Western District and because the corporate defendant, the Church, has its principal place of business in the Western District. (Docket Nos. 3 at 2 ¶¶ 2, 3, 5; 2 at ¶¶ 2, 3). The Court determined that transfer to this district would further the interests of justice, ruling that “all twelve Defendants are residents of the Western District of Pennsylvania, and the events underlying the cause of action occurred within that district. Transfer rather than dismissal would further the interest of justice.” (Docket No. 4 at 3). Defendants filed their answer in the Eastern District on December 3, 2015. (Docket No. 18).

         Three months later, the matter was transferred to this Court. (Docket No. 20). This Court held a case management conference on January 12, 2016, (Docket No. 36), and referred the matter to mediation. (Docket No. 38). On February 12, 2016, Lee filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, which the Court denied as premature that same day. (Docket Nos. 40, 41). Mediation was held on February 24, 2016, but the matter did not settle. (Docket No. 42). Thereafter, the individual defendants on February 26, 2016 filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, (Docket No. 43), Rev. Lee filed his Response to the Motion on March 28, 2016, (Docket No. 47), the individual defendants filed their Reply on April 11, 2016, (Docket No. 51), and Rev. Lee filed his Sur-Reply on April 25, 2016. (Docket No. 53). The Court granted the Motion in accordance with its May 4, 2016 Memorandum Opinion. (Docket Nos. 54, 55). Due to discovery delays resulting from a change in Plaintiff's counsel, the Church requested and the Court granted a two month extension of the May 31, 2016 deadline until July 31, 2016 to amend the pleadings. (Docket Nos. 59, 60). Subsequently on September 30, 2016, the Church filed a motion to extend the discovery deadline to December 1, 2016, (Docket No. 64), which was contested, (Docket Nos. 65, 67), and which the Court granted by Order dated October 4, 2016, after oral argument held on the motion that same date. (Docket Nos. 68, 69). On September 30, 2016, the Church also requested leave to file an Amended Answer, which was uncontested as a result of the Court's extension of the discovery deadline and which the Court likewise granted on October 4, 2016. (Docket No. 70). The Church filed its Amended Answer on October 13, 2016. (Docket No. 71).

         On January 31, 2017, Rev. Lee filed an affirmative motion for summary judgment on his sole claim for breach of contract, (Docket No. 76), with Brief in Support (Docket No. 77), and Concise Statement of Material Facts. (Docket No. 78). Plaintiff subsequently filed an Amended Brief in Support (Docket No. 82), and an Amended Concise Statement of Material Facts (Docket No. 83) on February 2, 2017.[7] The Church filed its Brief in Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment on March 2, 2017, (Docket No. 86), with its Responsive Concise Statement of Material Facts, (Docket No. 87), and Appendix in Support. (Docket No. 88). The Court originally scheduled argument on the motion for summary judgment for April 7, 2017. (Docket No. 75).

         After further review of the matter and the parties' filings, the Court became skeptical that this matter ultimately could go forward under First Amendment Free Exercise and Establishment Clause jurisprudence. Accordingly, the Court entered an order on April 5, 2017 rescheduling argument for May 12, 2017, giving notice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f), and requiring the parties to address through additional briefing the following:

whether and to what extent the ministerial exception under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and excessive entanglement under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, see, e.g., Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C, 565 U.S. 171 (2012), Petruska v. Gannon Univ., 462 F.3d 294 (3d Cir. 2006), and related Pennsylvania law, affects further adjudication of this matter. See also Rule 56(f). The parties also shall address in the briefing whether the language in the agreement at § 12.3 governing termination for cause encompasses the ministerial exception.

(Docket No. 89). Rev. Lee filed his supplemental brief on April 21, 2017, (Docket No. 91), as did the Church. (Docket No. 90). The parties were afforded the opportunity to file responsive briefs to the opposing party's supplemental brief, (Docket No. 89), but neither chose to do so. Hearing on the matter was held on May 12, 2017, (Docket No. 92), with the transcript of same filed on August 11, 2017, (Docket No. 93), and this matter is fully ripe for disposition.

         IV. LEGAL STANDARD

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), “[a] party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A grant of summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) is appropriate when the moving party establishes “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Heffernan v. City of Paterson, 777 F.3d 147, 151 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). A genuine issue of material fact is one that could affect the outcome of litigation. Willis v. UPMC Children's Hosp. of Pittsburgh, 808 F.3d 638, 643 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The mere existence of some disputed facts is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. As to materiality, “only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. However, “'[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'” N.A.A.C.P. v. North Hudson Reg'l Fire & Rescue, 665 F.3d 464, 475 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

         The initial burden is on the moving party to adduce evidence illustrating a lack of genuine issues. Hugh v. Butler Cnty. Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the non-moving party then must present sufficient evidence of a genuine issue, in rebuttal. Santini v. Fuentes, 795 F.3d 410, 416 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587)). When considering the parties' arguments, the Court is required to view all facts and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)). Further, the benefit of the doubt will be given to the non-moving party when there is a conflict with the moving party's claims. Bialko v. Quaker Oats Co., 434 F.App'x 139, 141 n. 4 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Valhal Corp. v. Sullivan Assocs., 44 F.3d 195, 200 (3d Cir. 1995)). The court's function on summary judgment is not to weigh the evidence, to determine the truth of the matter, or to evaluate credibility, rather the court is only to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d Cir. 2005); Simpson v. Kay Jewelers, 142 F.3d 639, 643 n. 3 (3d Cir.1998) (quoting Fuentes v. Perski, 32 F.3d 759, 762 n. 1 (3d Cir. 1994)). The Court must enter summary judgment against the party “who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. A well-supported motion for summary judgment will not be defeated where the non-moving party merely reasserts factual allegations contained in the pleadings. Betts v. New Castle Youth Dev. Ctr., 621 F.3d 249, 252 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989)).

         Ordinarily, the non-moving party must rely on affidavits, depositions, admissions, and/or interrogatories to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue. Guidotti v. Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, L.L.C., 716 F.3d 764, 773 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324). Where the moving party is the party bearing the burden of proof, “the standard is more stringent.” National State Bank v. Federal Reserve Bank, 979 F.2d 1579, 1582 (3d Cir. 1992). Rev. Lee as Plaintiff:

[b]ears the burden of proof on [his breach of contract claim]. “After all, the burden of proof includes the obligation to persuade the factfinder that one's propositions of fact are indeed true. Thus, if there is a chance that a reasonable factfinder would not accept a moving party's necessary propositions of fact, pretrial judgment cannot be granted. Specious objections will not, of course, defeat a motion for summary judgment, but real questions about credibility, gaps in the evidence, and doubts as to the sufficiency of the movant's proof, will.”

Wallace v. Nat'l Indem. of Mid-Am., 2:14-cv-1253, 2016 WL 6948781, at *3 n. 2 (W.D. Pa. July 8, 2016) (quoting El v. Se. Pennsylvania Transp. Auth. (SEPTA), 479 F.3d 232, 238 (3d Cir. 2007)). In this posture, “where the movant bears the burden of proof at trial and the motion does not establish the absence of a genuine factual issue, the district court should deny summary judgment even if no opposing evidentiary matter is presented” Federal Reserve Bank, 979 F.2d at 1582 (emphasis added) (citing Resolution Trust Corp. v. Gill, 960 F.2d 336, 340 (3d Cir. 1992)).

         V. DISCUSSION

         Rev. Lee contends that he is entitled to summary judgment in ...


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