District Court, Ogden Department The Honorable Mark R.
DeCaria No. 160906025
M. Webster and Matthew G. Koyle, Attorneys for Appellant
J. Porter and Kristen C. Kiburtz, Attorneys for Appellees
Kate Appleby authored this Opinion, in which Judges Jill M.
Pohlman and Diana Hagen concurred.
Ria Williams appeals the district court's dismissal of
her tort claims for negligent infliction of emotional
distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress
against defendants Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses,
Roy Utah; Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York
Inc.; Harry Diamanti; Eric Stocker; Raulon Hicks; and Dan
Harper (collectively, the Church). We affirm.
Williams and her family attended the Roy Congregation of
Jehovah's Witnesses. In the summer of 2007, Williams met
another Jehovah's Witnesses congregant ("Church
Member"). Williams and Church Member began seeing each
other socially, but the relationship quickly changed and
throughout the rest of the year Church Member physically and
sexually assaulted Williams, who was a minor.
In early 2008 the Church began investigating Williams to
determine whether she engaged in "porneia," a
serious sin defined by Jehovah's Witnesses as
"[u]nclean sexual conduct that is contrary to
'normal' behavior." Porneia includes
"sexual conduct between individuals who are not married
to each other." The Church convened a "judicial
committee" to "determine if [Williams] had in fact
engaged in porneia and if so, if was she sufficiently
repentant for doing so." A group of three elders (the
Elders) presided over the judicial committee.
Williams voluntarily attended the judicial committee with her
mother and step-father. The Elders questioned Williams for
forty-five minutes regarding her sexual conduct with Church
After questioning Williams about her sexual conduct, the
Elders played an audio recording of Church Member raping
Williams. Church Member recorded this incident and gave it to
the Elders during their investigation of Williams. The
recording was "several hours" in length. Williams
cried and protested as the Elders replayed the recording. The
Elders played the recording for "four to five
hours" stopping and starting it to ask Williams whether
she consented to the sexual acts. During the meeting Williams
was "crying and physically quivering." Williams
conceded she was able to leave but risked being
disfellowshipped if she did.
Williams continues to experience distress as a result of her
meeting with the Elders. Her symptoms include
"embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, disgrace,
humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life," and spiritual
suffering. Williams filed a complaint against the Church for
negligence, negligent supervision, failure to warn, and
intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).
In response to her complaint, the Church filed a motion to
dismiss under rule 12(b)(6) of the Utah Rules of Civil
Procedure. Williams filed an amended complaint dropping her
negligence claims and adding a claim for negligent infliction
of emotional distress (NIED) to the IIED claim. The Church
filed a second motion to dismiss under rule 12(b)(6). The
motion argued the United States and Utah constitutions barred
Williams's claims for IIED and NIED.
After considering the motions and hearing argument the
district court dismissed Williams's amended complaint. It
ruled that the First Amendment to the United States
Constitution bars Williams's claims for NIED and IIED.
The court ruled that Williams's claims "expressly
implicate key religious questions regarding religious rules,
standards, . . . discipline, [and] most prominently how a
religion conducts its ecclesiastical disciplinary
hearings." Although the allegations in the complaint
were "disturbing" to the court, it ruled that the
conduct was protected by the First ...