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A man expelled from a Roman Catholic seminary may move forward with his breach of implied contract claim in a lawsuit alleging that the school promoted “pro-gay and lesbian” literature in violation of authentic Roman Catholic doctrine. In partially rejecting a motion to dismiss submitted by the Diocese of Rockville Centre and other defendants, Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Anthony L. Parga determined that a suit filed by a former seminary student could proceed. However, the New York judge dismissed the plaintiff’s misrepresentation and negligence claims, finding that the First Amendment prohibited the court from interfering with causes of action grounded in a religious dispute. Justice Parga reasoned in Downey v. Schneider, 845-03, that subject matter jurisdiction over the cause of action for breach of implied warranty was not constitutionally barred, since the defendants thus far had made no evidentiary showing as to why plaintiff William J. Downey was expelled from the seminary of the Immaculate Conception allegedly without explanation. In his affidavit, Downey wrote that he was dismissed after he contacted Rev. William J. Murphy, bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, about the nature and content of the seminary’s curriculum and teachings. He also said his dismissal occurred after he informed Rev. Murphy that he would “confront the issues publicly.” Specifically, Downey, whose affidavit said he was a former mergers and acquisitions consultant before entering the master’s program, alleged that the school promoted “pro-gay and lesbian books,” including “Religion is a Queer Thing.” He also contended that the word “pecker” was prominently displayed in his co-ed Introduction to the Bible course. His affidavit stated that he had earned nine of the required 13 courses for the degree and maintained a B+ average while in school. But the defendants, which included five priests, the diocese and the seminary, argued that Downey’s claims were “impossible” for the court to address without determining what constituted authentic Roman Catholic doctrine. Such a matter, the defendants asserted, was not subject to judicial review. In addition, the defendants argued that a judicial review of “purely academic determinations” such as Downey’s expulsion, was precluded by a decision from the Appellate Division, Second Department, in Carr v. St. John’s University, 17 AD2d 632 (1962). The court in Carr held that a university’s expulsion was not subject to judicial review if its decision was not arbitrary or capricious. “Similarly, in this case, the Seminary, a religious and educational institution operated by Roman Catholic priests, as a matter of law, should have the discretion to expel a student who challenges the curriculae on the basis of religious doctrine,” the defendant’s brief stated. But Justice Parga wrote that case law, including the decision in Carr, recognizes a contractual relationship between a student and a private college, and since the defendants “thus far” had made no evidentiary showing regarding its decision to expel Downey, he would allow the breach of implied contract to move forward. JURISDICTION LACKING As for Dowd’s misrepresentation and negligence claims, however, the judge held that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. “Plaintiff’s second and third causes of action cannot be decided solely upon the application of neutral principles of law, without reference to religious principles or doctrine, since he claims inter alia that the Seminary failed to teach authentic Roman Catholic theology,” he wrote. John F. Picciano of Picciano & Scahill in Garden City represented Downey. Spellman Walsh Rice Schure & Markus, also in Garden City, represented the defendants.

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