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SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION - REMOVAL OF PASTOR - ECCLESIASTICAL MATTERS - TAYLOR V. PARADISE MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH

Taylor v. Paradise Missionary Baptist Church, [Ms. 1160034, July 28, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2017). This decision written by Justice Bolin (Stuart, C.J., and Parker, Main, Wise, and Sellers, JJ. concur, Murdock, J. concurring specially, Shaw and Bryan, JJ., concur in the result), reverses a judgment of the Choctaw County Circuit Court declaring that the pastor of the Paradise Missionary Baptist Church was rightfully removed from his position. The Court concluded that whether the pastor was rightfully removed was an ecclesiastical matter of internal church affairs, and that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. In support of its decision, the Court cited Justice Murdock’s concurrence in McGlathery v. Richardson, 944 So. 2d 968, 975 (Ala. Civ. App. 2006) in determining whether a dispute involves an ecclesiastical matter over which civil courts lack jurisdiction:

It is the nature of the underlying dispute that determines whether a court has jurisdiction that consider matters of church procedure. As Hunley [v. Collins, 131 Ala. 234, 32 So. 575 (1902)] clearly articulates, if the substantive dispute is spiritual or ecclesiastical in nature, it is irrelevant to the civil court whether the church followed its own procedures, per se; the civil court has no jurisdiction to consider the matter.

Ms. *41, quoting McGlathery v. Richardson, 944 So. 2d 968, 975 (Ala. Civ. App. 2006)(Murdock, J., concurring specially)(some citations omitted).

In his special concurrence in Taylor, Justice Murdock noted that “Alabama law provides that ‘[a] court has jurisdiction to determine its own jurisdiction.’ Jefferson Cty. Comm’n v. Edwards, 32 So. 3d 572, 583 (Ala. 2009).” Ms. *45, Murdock, J., concurring specially. Justice Murdock emphasized that a court has jurisdiction to determine its own jurisdiction and that authority is not limited to instances to where the court makes a correct decision in that regard. Justice Murdock put it thusly

We do not say that a trial court has jurisdiction to decide its own jurisdiction only when it doeshave jurisdiction. Nor do we say that a trial court has jurisdiction only to make correct decisions regarding its own jurisdiction. A trial court either has the jurisdiction to decide or it does not. Our jurisprudence holds that it does.

Ibid.

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