VALERIE BANDSTRA, ANNE BANDSTRA, RYAN BANDSTRA, and JASON BANDSTRA, Appellants,
COVENANT REFORMED CHURCH, Appellee.
from the Iowa District Court for Marion County, John D.
appeal several summary judgment and discovery rulings in
their civil suit against a religious entity. AFFIRMED IN
PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.
Roxanne Barton Conlin of Roxanne Conlin & Associates,
P.C., Des Moines, for appellants.
Michael W. Thrall of Nyemaster Goode, P.C., Des Moines, and
Frances M. Haas of Nyemaster Goode, P.C., Cedar Rapids, for
Volokh of Scott & Cyan Banister First Amendment Clinic at
UCLA School of Law, Los Angeles, California, and Jason D.
Walke of Walke Law, LLC, Waukee, for amicus curiae
International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc.
appeal, we address a number of claims within a lawsuit by two
female parishioners and their spouses against a church based
on claims of negligence and defamation involving sexual abuse
and exploitation perpetrated on the women by the church
pastor and the subsequent response by the governing body of
the church. The district court granted summary judgment for
the church on all claims except negligent supervision, but
found the negligent-supervision claims brought by the female
parishioners were barred by the statute of limitations. On
appeal, we affirm the district court in part and reverse in
part. We hold the Religion Clauses of our State and Federal
Constitutions bar two of the negligence claims brought
against the church, and the governing statute of limitations
bars one parishioner's claim of negligent supervision. We
further hold the claims of defamation were properly dismissed
by the district court. On remand, we direct the church to
produce certain documents for in camera inspection by the
Factual Background and Proceedings.
Covenant Reformed Church.
Reformed Church is a religiously conservative Dutch Reformed
Christian Church located in Pella, Iowa. The Church is
affiliated with the United Reformed Churches in North America
and seeks to "teach and preach the Christian Gospel
according to the Bible and the Doctrinal Standards, namely
the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dorttrecht and the
Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Confession and
Catechism." The Church is organized as a nonprofit
corporation and is governed locally by a Consistory, which is
comprised of a minister of the Word and a Board of Elders.
Board of Elders oversees the operations of the church and
serves as both administrative and spiritual leaders. The
board is comprised of sixteen "male confessing
members" of the Church who are elected to serve by the
congregation in staggered terms of three years. The Church
does not require elders to complete any formal theological
training or be ordained, and a male congregant need only
"meet the biblical requirements for office and indicate
their agreement with the Form of Subscription" to be
deemed qualified to serve.
of the Church are expected to submit to the elders with
respect to matters of doctrine and spirituality, although
members understand that they ultimately submit to God.
Additionally, when a baptized member of the United Reformed
Churches of North America makes a profession of faith, they
promise to submit to the government of the Church and to its
admonition or discipline should they become delinquent in
either doctrine or in their personal life.
Church Order of the United Reformed Churches in North America
describes the duties of an elder as follows:
The duties belonging to the office of elder consist of
continuing in prayer and ruling the church of Christ
according to the principles taught in Scripture, in order
that purity of doctrine and holiness of life may be
practiced. They shall see to it that their fellow-elders, the
minister(s) and the deacons faithfully discharge their
offices. They are to maintain the purity of the Word and
Sacraments, assist in catechizing the youth, promote
God-centered schooling, visit the members of the congregation
according to their needs, engage in family visiting, exercise
discipline in the congregation, actively promote the work of
evangelism and missions, and insure that everything is done
decently and in good order.
minister of the Word is an ordained pastor who
"continue[s] in prayer in the ministry of the Word,
administer[s] the sacraments, catechiz[es] the youth, and
assist[s] the elders in the shepherding and discipline of the
congregation." In order to serve as a minister of the
Word, a candidate must demonstrate his "thoroughly
reformed theological education, " including
his knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, both in the original
languages and in English translations, of the Three Forms of
Unity, of Christian doctrine, Christian ethics and church
history; of the Church Order, and of his knowledge and
aptitude with regard to the particular duties and
responsibilities of the minister of the Word, especially the
preparation and preaching of sermons.
a candidate's personal life is examined. Once a minister
of the Word is publically ordained before the congregation,
he is "bound to the service of the churches for life and
may change the nature of his labor only for weighty reasons,
upon approval by his supervising council with the concurring
advice of classis." However, the Church may remove a
minister of the Word if the "pastoral relationship has
been irreconcilably broken, and a minister of the Word or the
council of the congregation he is serving desires to dissolve
their pastoral relationship."
Board of Elders is responsible for supervising the
Church's pastor. Supervising a pastor is not a matter of
doctrine and is a secular administrative function of the
board. The board supervises the pastor by (1)
"discuss[ing] the preaching of the Word and mak[ing]
sure it coincides with the Holy Bible, " (2) having
"meetings twice a month [to] interact with [the pastor],
[and] discuss things that need to be discussed, " and
(3) "go[ing] on what [the board] call[s] house
visitation calls and [asking] the parishioners how the pastor
is pastoring them and whether there [are] concerns or
recommendations that [the board] can do to improve
Plaintiffs and Pastor Edouard's Sexual
2003, the Church called Patrick Edouard to be its pastor and
minister of the Word. Edouard was respected and considered a
"dynamic" and "very talented speaker."
Bandstra and her husband, Jason, were members of the Church
at the time Edouard arrived. In 2005, Valerie and Jason were
struggling with infertility, which was taking an emotional
toll on Valerie. Upon learning of her struggles, Edouard
began making unsolicited phone calls to Valerie's cell
phone, inquiring into her personal life and fertility. In
2006, Valerie and Jason were in the process of seeking an
international adoption, and Valerie decided to seek
counseling from Edouard to help her cope. Edouard invited
Valerie to comes see him "at his study, " which was
in the basement of his home.
Valerie arrived for her first counseling session, Edouard
showed her to his study in the basement. Edouard locked the
door and began inquiring into Valerie's personal
struggles. Edouard inquired into whether Jason was
"meeting [her] needs, " then proceeded to grope and
kiss her. The two then engaged in sexual intercourse, and
Valerie has consistently maintained the sex was against her
will. Following the encounter, Edouard continued to call
Valerie and insist her husband was not meeting her needs. He
informed Valerie her emotional struggles stemmed from
"sexual frustration" and unhappiness in marriage.
Edouard urged Valerie that he was "protect[ing]"
her by helping her release her sexual energy. Additionally,
Edouard urged Valerie that he believed God brought them
together so she could use her good fortune to help him.
Edouard asked for, and Valerie ultimately loaned him, $70,
October 2009, Valerie's sister, Patty, confided in
Valerie that Edouard had tried to kiss her during a
counseling session. Once Valerie learned what Edouard had
done to her sister, she realized he
was using his pastoral position and basically the trust that
people put in him as a pastor to counsel and to basically
recruit women to be counseling candidates so he could get
them into a position of trust and vulnerability for the very
purpose of abusing them.
after the conversation, Valerie called Edouard and told him
he was using his position as pastor under the guise of
counseling to have sexual relationships with women. Valerie
then broke off contact with Edouard, although she did not
inform the Church or the police of his conduct out of fear of
retribution or not being believed.
Bandstra and her husband, Ryan (Jason's brother), were
also members of the Church when Edouard was called to be
pastor in 2003. In 2008, Anne was going through a difficult
time. She felt overwhelmed by a recent death in the family,
marital problems, and her special needs child. Anne had been
prescribed antidepressant and anxiety medications, which she
April 2008, Edouard contacted Anne and suggested she counsel
with him. Edouard invited Anne to his basement study and
locked the door. He inquired into her personal life, her
marital struggles, and whether she had engaged in premarital
sex. Anne left the meeting to pick up her son, although she
felt uneasy about Edouard's line of questioning. Edouard
then began calling Anne frequently, asking to see her again.
In May, during a counseling session, Edouard grabbed her and
kissed her. Soon, the "counseling" evolved into
regular meetings for Edouard to provide "healing"
through sexual activity. Beyond sexual intercourse, Edouard
would aggressively call Anne, sometimes ten to fifteen times
2010, Edouard informed Anne of his previous interactions with
Valerie and another woman, Sandy. After the conversation,
Anne "started putting all the pieces together very
quickly." She began to see "what had happened to
Sandy and the abuse there" and could see "what
happened to Valerie, to Patty, to Wanda, to multiple women
that [were] in [her] church." Anne continued to meet
with Edouard until December 10. On that day, Ryan arrived
home and saw Edouard's vehicle parked outside the home.
Although Ryan did not witness Anne and Edouard engaging in
any sexual activity, he grew suspicious. That evening, Anne
informed Ryan of Edouard's "counseling." Ryan
then spoke to Jason, and the two brothers put the stories
together and discovered Edouard's exploitation.
December 13, Jason and Ryan met with three elders and
informed them of Edouard's misconduct with their wives.
That same evening, Edouard came to a Church meeting and one
elder, Mr. Hettinga, questioned him about his conduct with
Anne. Edouard admitted to inappropriate conduct with Anne and
voluntarily offered his resignation. The entire Board of
Elders met later that evening and voted to accept
Church Response to Clergy Abuse Allegations.
December 15, the elders sent a letter to the entire
congregation explaining they had accepted Edouard's
resignation. The letter stated Edouard's "sins are
of such a nature that they warrant our acceptance of [his]
resignation, " but did not disclose the nature of
December 27, Valerie and Anne were called to appear before
the elders. At the meeting, the women were asked to confess
their sins with Edouard and ask for forgiveness, which they
did. Valerie maintains she confessed to "idolatry,
" and Anne maintains she did not confess to any specific
sin, although the elders understood the women to have
confessed to "adultery." The elders granted Valerie
and Anne forgiveness. On December 29, the Consistory informed
the congregation that it had voted unanimously to institute
proceedings to depose Edouard from the office of minister of
January 14, 2011, the Board of Elders sent another letter to
the entire congregation. It stated, in relevant part,
During the past four weeks the Consistory has learned of a
prolonged period of sexual immorality and/or inappropriate
contact between Patrick Edouard and multiple women congregant
members. These members will remain unnamed by the Consistory
and we admonish the congregation that they remain unnamed by
you also. In love for the body of Christ, we must demonstrate
our forgiving love for these members by being prudent with
our speech and persistent in prayer for us all. We are
thankful for those members who came before the Elders and
eagerly desire to remain a part of us. We whole-heartedly
the letter did not identify Valerie or Anne by name, the
congregation had become aware of which women came forward
with allegations against Edouard.
days later, another member of the Church, Julie Hooyer, wrote
to the elders and urged the elders to refrain from blaming
Edouard's victims or referring to the misconduct as
"affairs." Hooyer, a social worker, explained that
blaming the women for Edouard's clergy abuse would
significantly damage the women, as well as the congregation
as a whole. Hooyer, along with Anne, Ryan, and other affected
church members, soon thereafter attended an elder meeting to
discuss their perspectives. They urged the elders to
"form a task force to inform and counsel the
Congregation, and [asked] that [the elders] write a letter to
the Congregation using the terms clergy abuse and victims
rather than adultery." The elders responded by asking
Hooyer to submit her suggestions for the letter. After the
members left the meeting, the elders discussed their ideas
and noted "the perspective and suggestions had very
little Biblical or theological content or viewpoint."
The elders ultimately decided it was best to "request
guidance from a Christian psychologist or an attorney."
the meeting, Hooyer indeed sent some suggested language for a
congregation letter to the elders. The elders declined to
send her letter, "due in part to recommendations from
law enforcement officials" and because they "felt
the concepts she suggested were not necessarily Biblical and
that the women involved using these concepts felt they were
totally victims." In a letter circulated between the
elders, the elders expressed their view that
a false dichotomy is established when it asserts that all
blame is [Edouard's]. The victims are certainly sinned
against, but they are also sinning. All the parties involved
failed to walk in the light (I John 1) and the women, though
not bearing the same degree of responsibility as does
[Edouard], were certainly responsible for their behavior and
need to be called to repentance for consenting to his
advances and for violating their marital covenant. They
sinned sexually, even though they can rightly in one sense be
denominated as victims of Patrick's machinations.
elders did not view Anne and Valerie's experiences as
rape or sexual assault, and some even questioned whether
Edouard engaged in any misconduct at all. One elder, Mr. Van
Mersbergen, purportedly stated in a meeting that what
happened to the women "was not clergy sexual
abuse." Another elder, Mr. Hartman, stated during a
meeting that "[g]rooming is a word made up by
professionals. In reality, it is temptation. These women fell
into temptation and they sinned." During a home
visitation, another elder, Mr. Van Donselaar, stated,
"Our only wish is that the women would admit what they
did was wrong and ask for forgiveness like Patrick did."
He further explained, "If Edouard goes to jail, there
are four women who should go to jail as well." On
another occasion, Van Donselaar spoke with Ryan on the phone
and informed him there was "sin on both sides" and
that Edouard's conduct "was not clergy sexual
abuse." On yet another occasion, Von Donselaar stated to
other members of the congregation that "Edouard is more
repentant than any of these women will be."
summer of 2011, the elders discussed inviting Dr. Diane
Langberg, an expert in clergy sexual abuse, to consult with
the Church. During the elder meeting, there was a motion to
include in the invitation "the phrase that the women
committed . . . and confessed to adultery with Patrick
Edouard and were forgiven at the time of their
confessions." The elders ultimately requested that Dr.
Langberg come to the Church and "fully support the
actions they had taken at that time." Dr. Langberg
declined, citing the elders' reluctance to view the women
as victims. In September, the elders again voted to invite
Dr. Langberg to meet with the elders once Edouard's
criminal trial was finished. Ultimately, Dr. Langberg never
visited the Church.
of 2012, Valerie and Jason left the Church. Anne and Ryan
followed suit two months later.
Edouard's Criminal Conviction.
meantime, Edouard was charged with three counts of sexual
abuse in the third degree, in violation of Iowa Code section
709.4(1) (2011), four counts of sexual exploitation by a
counselor or therapist, in violation of Iowa Code section
709.15(2)(c), and one count of engaging in a pattern
or practice of sexual exploitation by a counselor or
therapist, in violation of Iowa Code section
709.15(2)(a). A jury trial began on August 13, 2012.
Both Valerie and Anne testified. Edouard also testified in
his defense, maintaining all sexual activity was consensual,
and he never provided mental health services.
jury convicted Edouard of the five sexual exploitation
charges and acquitted him of the three sexual abuse charges.
He was sentenced to five years in prison. We affirmed his
case on appeal, concluding in relevant part that sufficient
evidence existed to support a conviction of sexual
exploitation. See State v. Edouard, 854 N.W.2d 421,
439 (Iowa 2014), overruled on other grounds by Alcala v.
Marriott Int'l, Inc., 880 N.W.2d 699, 708 & n.3
(Iowa 2016). In rejecting a constitutional challenge to the
sexual exploitation statute, we explained "the
relationships between Edouard and each of the four women did
not involve full and mutual consent. In each case, Edouard
used- misused-his position of authority as a counselor to
exploit the vulnerabilities of his victim." Id.
at 444. We concluded "[t]he relationships were of a kind
where 'consent might not easily be refused.' "
Id. (quoting Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S.
558, 578, 123 S.Ct. 2472, 2484 (2003)).
December 7, 2012, Valerie, Anne, Ryan, and Jason brought a
civil suit against Edouard, the Church, United Reformed
Churches in North America, and several named elders. The
plaintiffs subsequently dismissed the claims against United
Reformed Churches in North America and Edouard.
a number of amended petitions and voluntary motions to
dismiss, the plaintiffs ultimately allege the Church and
elders (1) negligently declined to invite mental health
counselors and clergy sexual abuse experts to work with the
congregation; (2) negligently blamed the women for their
sexual exploitation, causing them severe emotional harm; (3)
negligently investigated Edouard's misconduct following
plaintiffs' complaints; (4) negligently supervised and
retained Edouard; and (5) made a number of defamatory
statements against Anne and Valerie. Throughout the duration
of the suit, defense counsel and plaintiffs' counsel
engaged in a number of discovery disputes, resulting in the
district court reviewing a significant number of documents in
camera and issuing twelve separate discovery rulings.
district court issued three summary judgment orders. The
first concluded the elders individually were immune from suit
under Iowa Code section 504.901, which grants immunity to
"a director, officer, or member of a [nonprofit]
corporation . . . for any action taken or failure to take any
action in the discharge of the person's duties, "
except in four specific instances. Iowa Code § 504.901
(2013). The court concluded the elders could not be held
liable for any actions taken pursuant to their duties in
governing a nonprofit corporation. The court then found the
doctrine of issue preclusion could not be applied to the
question of whether Valerie or Anne consented to their
encounters with Edouard, as the jury did not specifically
find, as an element of the crime of sexual exploitation, that
the women did not consent to the encounters.
second order, the district court granted summary judgment in
favor of the Church on the plaintiffs' defamation claims.
The court found that all but two identified statements were
qualifiedly privileged and could not give rise to a
defamation action. The remaining statements, the court
determined, were protected opinion statements incapable of
being proven true or false. Further, the court found that no
statements were made with actual malice, and thus, the
plaintiffs could not overcome the qualified privilege.
final order, the district court granted summary judgment in
favor of the Church on all negligence claims, except Ryan and
Jason's negligent-supervision claims. The court found the
First Amendment barred plaintiffs' first two negligence
claims. Next, the court found that, First Amendment concerns
notwithstanding, summary judgment was appropriate for the
negligent-investigation claim, as the elders accepted
Edouard's resignation within hours of hearing of the
allegations. Finally, the court determined that both Anne and
Valerie's negligent-supervision claims were barred by the
statute of limitations, as both women were aware of
Edouard's misconduct more than two years before filing
moved for the district court to reconsider its rulings with
respect to their negligence claims. The plaintiffs urged that
the district court did not consider the continuing-violations
doctrine, which would place Anne and Valerie within the
statute of limitations. Although the Church contested whether
the issue was preserved, the court nevertheless reached the
issue. The court concluded the record did not demonstrate
that the plaintiffs were incapacitated in bringing an action
against the Church. Further, the court found that Iowa had
not adopted the continuing-violations doctrine, and thus, the
court was without jurisdiction to apply it here.
appealed, and we retained the case.
Standard of Review.
review a district court's summary judgment ruling
"for correction of errors at law." Walderbach
v. Archdiocese of Dubuque, Inc., 730 N.W.2d 198, 199
(Iowa 2007). Summary judgment is proper "if the
pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
show that there is no genuine issue as to any material
fact." Id. (quoting Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.981(3)).
When reviewing a district court's ruling, we view the
record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
Id. at 199-200.
the elements of issue preclusion are satisfied is a question
of law." Winger v. CM Holdings, L.L.C., 881
N.W.2d 433, 445 (Iowa 2016) (quoting Emp'rs Mut. Cas.
Co. v. Van Haaften, 815 N.W.2d 17, 22 (Iowa 2012)). We
review applications of evidentiary privileges for correction
of errors at law. State v. Richmond, 590 N.W.2d 33,
34 (Iowa 1999). Our review of discovery matters is for an
abuse of discretion. Willard v. State, 893 N.W.2d
52, 58 (Iowa 2017). We will not disturb the court's
conclusions unless the "ruling 'rests upon clearly
untenable or unreasonable grounds.' " Id.
(quoting Jones v. Univ. of Iowa, 836 N.W.2d 127, 139
number of issues have been properly raised on appeal for our
review: (1) Whether the Religion Clauses of the United States
and Iowa Constitutions bar plaintiffs' negligence claims,
(2) whether summary judgment was erroneously granted on
plaintiffs' negligent-investigation claim, (3) whether
the two-year statute of limitations bars Valerie and
Anne's negligent-supervision claims, (4) whether the
district court erred in dismissing plaintiffs' defamation
claims, (5) whether Edouard's criminal conviction permits
plaintiffs in this suit to offensively preclude any argument
that the women consented to the encounters, (6) whether the
district court erred in applying the clergy privilege during
discovery, and (7) whether the district court abused its
discretion with respect to the production of numerous
identified discovery documents. We consider each issue in