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Tort suits, religious institutions, charitable immunity, ecclesiastical doctrine, Arkansas rule of civil procedure


efense attorneys in Arkansas are, not infrequently, called upon to defend religious institutions from tort suits brought against them for a variety of reasons. Such claims may arise out of a motor vehicle accident involving a church bus, a slip and fall accident on church premises, a claim of sexual molestation on the part of a church employee, or another type of claim. In defending claims against religious institutions, it is imperative that the defense of charitable immunity and, where applicable, the Ecclesiastical doctrine, be raised in the first responsive pleading to the Complaint, be that an Answer and/or a Motion to Dismiss. As such, defense counsel should plead in the Answer, among other affirmative defenses, Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction and Rule 12(b)(6) failure to state a claim sufficient to form the basis for relief. He or she should also affirmatively plead the client’s not-for-profit entity status, citing its Internal Revenue Service 501(c)(3) designation.