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Nevada Jury Verdict Unhinged By Holding That Incardination Isn’t Necessarily Employment

The ecclesiastical doctrine of incardination defines the relationship between clerics and the church.  According to the United States Conference of Bishops (no relation), “incardination is traditionally used to refer to the attachment of the priest or deacon to a diocesan Church headed by the diocesan bishop.”  In an opinion issued yesterday, the Nevada Supreme Court tackled the question of whether a relationship established by canon law also establishes a relationship defined by civil law.  Catholic Diocese of Green Bay v. John Doe 119, 131 Nev. Adv. Op. 29 (2015).

The question arose from a lawsuit filed by a sexual assault victim against the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay in Nevada.  The priest involved had originally been incardinated in the Diocese of Green Bay.  The victim obtained a jury verdict and the diocese, a religious organization incorporated and headquartered in Wisconsin, appealed on the basis that the Nevada state courts lacked personal jurisdiction.  The District Court found support for the existence of an employment or agency relationship between the priest and the Diocese of Green Bay based on the incardination.  The Supreme Court disagreed finding “that the ecclesiastical system of incardination does not conclusively establish employment or agency.”  Writing for court, Justice Michael A. Cherry noted that while the court cannot opine on ecclesiastical matters, it could determine whether a religious organization’s structure creates an employment relationship.

The word “incardination” is derived from the Latin preposition in, meaning in or or on and cardo, meaning a hinge.  The English word “cardinal” is also derived from cardo. The songbird obtained its name because its red plumage is reminiscent of the red worn by cardinals.

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About this Author

Keith Paul Bishop, Corporate Transactions Lawyer, finance securities attorney, Allen Matkins Law Firm

Keith Paul Bishop is a partner in Allen Matkins' Corporate and Securities practice group, and works out of the Orange County office. He represents clients in a wide range of corporate transactions, including public and private securities offerings of debt and equity, mergers and acquisitions, proxy contests and tender offers, corporate governance matters and federal and state securities laws (including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the Dodd-Frank Act), investment adviser, financial services regulation, and California administrative law. He regularly advises clients...