SCOTUS Opinion: Court Enforces Removal Jurisdiction In Vacating Orders Against The Catholic Church

The case of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Yuan, Puerto Rico v. Feliciano concerned complaints filed by employees of Catholic schools in Puerto Rico alleging wrongful termination of their pension plan. Initially, the Puerto Rico trial court determined that the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church in Puerto Rico was the proper entity that owed obligations to the plan, and ordered the Church to make payments. That ruling was ultimately upheld by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court. The Archdiocese appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the Puerto Rico courts should have deferred to the Church’s own view as to how it was structured (as a collection of separate legal dioceses and parishes). The Court, in a unanimous per curiam opinion, reversed, holding that the lower court rulings were all void because they were entered during a time the matter had been briefly removed to federal court due to a pending bankruptcy proceeding. The Court reinforced the rule that state courts lose all jurisdiction once a case is removed to federal court, and that jurisdiction does not re-vest even if the case is sent back nunc pro tunc to an earlier date. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Thomas, filed a concurrence arguing that the Puerto Rico Supreme Court misread precedent regarding the status of the Catholic Church as an entity, a noted other thorny issues that were likely to pop up on remand.

A link to the opinion is here.