Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division
from the Circuit Court of Shelby County 13SB-CC00002
Honorable John J. Jackson.
M. CLAYTON III, JUDGE.
("Appellant") appeals the trial court's grant
of summary judgment in favor of the Methodist Church of
Shelbina, Missouri ("the Shelbina Church" or
"the Church") and the Missouri Annual Conference of
the United Methodist Church ("the Conference")
(collectively, "Respondents") on Appellant's
action seeking compensatory and punitive damages relating to
sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of the Shelbina
Church's former youth director. We affirm.
The Uncontroverted Facts Giving Rise to this Appeal
appeal involves claims against two entities within the United
Methodist Church. The first is the Shelbina Church, a local
church which is comprised of an autonomous and self-governing
congregation. The Church is a separate and distinct Missouri
Conference, a Missouri non-profit corporation, provides
structure for the practice of "conferencing" for
the clergy and lay members of the United Methodist Church.
Clergy and lay members of local churches are Conference
members, not the local churches themselves. The Conference
only manages and supervises activities that it organizes; it
has no supervisory authority over local churches.
Specifically relevant to this appeal, the Conference has no
supervisory authority over hiring and firing decisions of
local United Methodist churches, including those of the
The Shelbina Church's Hiring of Christopher
or 2004, the administrative board for the Shelbina Church
decided the Church needed to hire a full-time youth director.
The position was advertised, and the Church received
applications from several interested candidates. One of these
applicants was Christopher Sprinkel, who provided the
Shelbina Church with his resume and a reference letter.
Although Sprinkel's most recent employer listed on the
resume was the Sugar Creek United Methodist Church, the
Shelbina Church did not contact his supervisor or any other
member of that church. Further, the Shelbina Church did
nothing to determine the accuracy of the information
contained in Sprinkel's resume.
the hiring process, the Shelbina Church's pastor, Virgil
Clow ("Pastor Clow"), obtained a criminal
background check on Sprinkel from a company called ScreenNow.
The ScreenNow search revealed "[n]o record found"
on a "State Sexual Offender Search in [Illinois]"
and "[n]o record found" on a "National
Criminal File Search." The Church relied on the
ScreenNow report although it included a disclaimer that
accuracy was not guaranteed.
applications for the youth director position were collected
and reviewed by Pastor Clow, they were passed along to the
Church's Pastor-Parish Relations Committee. The
Pastor-Parish Relations Committee then reviewed the
applications, conducted interviews of three applicants, and
ultimately selected Sprinkel for the job. The decision to
hire a youth director, and specifically to hire Sprinkel, was
made by members of the Shelbina Church without knowledge or
involvement of the Conference.
Sprinkel's Employment with the Shelbina
began working as the Shelbina Church's youth director in
approximately June 2004. Sprinkel was assisted in this
position by the assistant youth director, Dee Ide, and was
supervised by Pastor Clow on behalf of the Shelbina Church.
Sprinkel's duties included planning and coordinating
children's and youth programs and activities with a goal
towards growing the Church's youth ministry so as to
ultimately expand its membership as a whole. Sprinkel's
job as the youth director contained a religious component as
it involved educating children on the religious doctrine of
the United Methodist Church, planning literature for the
youth to study, praying with the children, and reading
scripture from the Bible.
effectuate the position's goals and duties, Sprinkel
established an after-school youth program at the Shelbina
Church that was held every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
during the school year. The after-school program was designed
to give youth of the Church a place to go and "hang
out" after school. Sprinkel also conducted a more formal
youth group on Sunday evenings, which had a greater focus on
religious studies than the after-school program.
Additionally, every fifth Sunday of a month was designated
"Youth Sunday" and Sprinkel gave the sermon to the
Shelbina Church determined Sprinkel's continued
employment as the youth director would be conditioned upon
being "Safe Sanctuaries" certified. The Conference,
which among other things, conducts statewide meetings and
camping trips for youth, developed the Safe Sanctuaries
certification program to screen and train adults who worked
or volunteered at Conference events to help ensure the proper
care and treatment of the children or youth who attend those
events. The Safe Sanctuaries program was also offered as a
model to local churches to help them develop their own
policies and programs to prevent child abuse. While Safe
Sanctuaries certification requires, in addition to training,
that all persons participating in Conference events submit to
a background screening, the screening "was intended to
only be used as a screening device for Conference
activities." The Safe Sanctuaries program was not
intended to be used by local churches to screen their own
employees or volunteers for non-Conference activities, and
the Conference instructed churches not to use it for
non-Conference purposes. However, the Conference knew local
churches were disregarding this warning and using the Safe
Sanctuaries program to screen their own employees.
went through the Safe Sanctuaries program after he was hired
by the Shelbina Church. His information was submitted to the
Safe Sanctuaries program, and a background check was obtained
by the Conference which disclosed: no criminal history or sex
offender registration information on file with the Missouri
State Highway Patrol; no employee disqualification list
information on file with the Missouri Department of Health
and Senior Services; no employee disqualification registry on
file with the Missouri Department of Mental Health; and no
child abuse or neglect information on file with the Missouri
Department of Social Services. Sprinkel was also required to
submit three reference forms to the Conference, including one
from his employer and two additional references. Sprinkel
submitted reference forms completed by Pastor Clow, who was
his supervisor at the time he underwent the screening, as
well as Allen Hickerson and Shawn Burnley. Each form
submitted to the Conference rated Sprinkel as
"excellent" or "good" in character,
morality, ability to relate to youths, and ability to relate
to children. The Conference took no steps to follow up
on the information contained in the reference forms, but
instead accepted all positive or negative responses on the
form and determined Sprinkel was Safe Sanctuaries certified.
November 2004, the Shelbina Church adopted its own Safe
Sanctuary policy ("the Policy"). Among other
guidelines, the Policy included a provision that two adults
should always be present during activities where youth or
children were present. Pastor Clow took steps to enforce this
Policy, such as checking on youth activities and questioning
volunteers to ensure they were never alone with the children
or youth. Sprinkel was aware of this Policy.
Appellant's Interactions with Sprinkel and the
Incident Giving Rise to Appellant's Claims
in the fall of 2005, Appellant began attending the Shelbina
Church's after-school youth program, where Appellant
would see Sprinkel approximately one or two times per week.
Appellant, who was twelve years old at the time, attended the
after-school program because his friends went, it was fun,
and he could play video games and basketball.
afternoon of January 6, 2006, Appellant's school was
released early that day, so Sprinkel invited Appellant to
come to his house to play video games until it was time to go
to the Church's after-school program. Although
Sprinkel's wife was present when Appellant first arrived,
she left shortly thereafter to run an errand. During the time
Sprinkel was alone with Appellant, Sprinkel showed Appellant
pornography on the computer and touched Appellant's
genitals. Immediately after, Appellant left Sprinkel's
house, went home, and reported the incident to his father.
Based on Sprinkel's actions against Appellant on January
6, 2006, Sprinkel was convicted by a jury of first-degree
Information Discovered after Sprinkel's
Molestation of Appellant
the allegations against Sprinkel came to light, Pastor
Clow's wife, who also served as the Shelbina Church's
secretary, conducted an internet search about Sprinkel. Ms.
Clow found articles written before Sprinkel was hired by the
Church that were about a prior criminal case filed against
Sprinkel in the Circuit Court of Logan County, Illinois.
Although Sprinkel was acquitted in the case, it involved an
incident of sexual molestation of a child.
the incident involving Appellant occurred, Pastor Clow held
meetings with some of the parents of children attending the
Church's youth programs. As a result, Pastor Clow learned
that in August 2005, Sprinkel invited at least two other boys
from the Church's after-school program to his house and
showed them pornography.
Relevant Procedural Posture
filed his original petition alleging various claims against
Respondents on January 7, 2013. During the course of the
litigation, however, Appellant was twice granted leave of the
court to file amended petitions. On December 10, 2015,
Appellant filed his Second Amended Petition asserting the
following ten claims: (I) child sexual abuse; (II) battery;
(III) breach of fiduciary/confidential relationship; (IV)
failure to supervise children; (V) negligent supervision of
Sprinkel; (VI) negligent infliction of emotional distress;
(VII) intentional failure to supervise Sprinkel; (VIII)
breach of duty to adopt and implement preventative
measures/failure to warn; (IX) fraud/misrepresentation; and
(X) Restatement (Second) of Torts, section 324(A)
(1965).  Subsequently, Respondents each filed a
motion for summary judgment, which the trial court ultimately
granted and entered summary judgment in favor of Respondents
on all of Appellant's remaining claims. This appeal
raises six points on appeal, which we will discuss in the
following order. In his third and sixth points on appeal,
Appellant asserts the trial court erred in granting summary
judgment as to Counts III through VIII and Count X on First
Amendment grounds. In his fifth point on appeal, Appellant
maintains the trial court erred in granting summary judgment
on Count VII because the uncontroverted facts demonstrated
Appellant could not establish an element of his claim. Then,
in his first point on appeal, Appellant contends the trial
court erred in granting summary judgment on Counts I and II
because it found the Church could not be held liable for
Sprinkel's intentionally tortious acts.
Standard of Review
court's decision to grant summary judgment is an issue of
law this Court reviews de novo. Doe v. Roman Catholic
Archdiocese of St. Louis, 347 S.W.3d 588, 590 (Mo. App.
E.D. 2011) ("Doe II"). Summary judgment is
proper only if there are no genuine issues of material fact
and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Id. We review the record in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party, accepting all reasonable inferences
in favor of that party as true. Id. at 591. We
accept facts contained in affidavits or otherwise produced in
support of the motion for summary judgment as true unless
they are contradicted by the non- movant's response to
the motion. Id. A defendant may establish its right
to judgment as a matter of law by showing one of the
following: "(1) facts that negate any one of the
elements of the claimant's cause of action; (2) the
non-movant, after an adequate period of discovery, has not
and will not be able to produce evidence sufficient to allow
the trier of fact to find the existence of any one of the
claimant's elements; or (3) there is no genuine dispute
as to the existence of each of the facts necessary to support
the movant's properly-pleaded affirmative defense."
movant succeeds in establishing its right to judgment as a
matter of law, the non-moving party must show that at least
one of the material facts asserted by the moving party as
undisputed is, in fact, genuinely disputed. Id.
However, only genuine disputes of material
facts will preclude summary judgment, and to prove such a
dispute exists, the non-moving party may not rely on mere
allegations or denials of the pleadings, but must produce
affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or
admissions on file. Doe v. Ratigan, 481 S.W.3d 36,
41 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015); Doe II, 347 S.W.3d at 591.
In the summary judgment context, a fact is material only if
it is one from which the right to judgment flows.
Ratigan, 481 S.W.3d at 41 (citing Goerlitz v.
City of Maryville, 333 S.W.3d 450, 453 (Mo. banc 2011)).
affirm the grant of summary judgment on any legal theory
supported by the record, whether or not it was the basis
relied upon by the trial court. Owners Insurance Company
v. Parkison, 517 S.W.3d 608, 612 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017);
Ratigan, 481 S.W.3d at 41.
The Trial Court's Grant of Summary Judgment as to Counts
III-VIII and Count X
begin our analysis with Appellant's third and sixth
points on appeal, which challenge the trial court's
finding that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment
to the United States Constitution ("the Establishment
Clause") precluded the court from entertaining a number
of Appellant's claims. Specifically, the court granted
summary judgment as to Counts III-VIII and Count X on First
Amendment grounds. Before we proceed to the merits of
Appellant's claims on appeal, we must first consider the
implications of the First Amendment in this case.
A Threshold Issue - The Establishment Clause of the
Establishment Clause provides in relevant part,
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion . . .." U.S. Const., Amend. I. The
Establishment Clause, as part of the First Amendment, applies
to the states by incorporation into the Fourteenth Amendment.
Gibson v. Brewer, 952 S.W.2d 239, 246 (Mo. banc
1997). The provision's mandate applies to any
exercise of state power, including judicial decision on a
state's common law. Id.
The Seminal Case: Gibson v. Brewer
Gibson v. Brewer, the Missouri Supreme Court
grappled with the implications of the Establishment Clause in
a case involving allegations of sexual abuse by a priest.
Id. at 243-44, 246-50. The plaintiff alleged the
priest had touched him inappropriately and reported the
occurrence to his parents. Id. at 243. The parents
then reported the incident to the Catholic Diocese of Kansas
City-St. Joseph, the governing body of the Church, which did
not respond in a satisfactory manner to the plaintiff's
plaintiff filed an action against the Diocese in tort,
alleging both claims of negligence and intentional acts.
Id. at 243-44. Specifically, the plaintiff pleaded
nine counts including battery, negligent
hiring/ordination/retention, negligent failure to supervise,
negligent infliction of emotional distress, breach of
fiduciary duty, conspiracy, agency liability, and independent
negligence of the Diocese. Id. The significant issue
addressed by our Supreme Court was whether tort claims
involving negligence and intentional acts may or may not be
pursued against a religious organization for the conduct of
its clergy. See id. at 246-50.
analysis on this issue, the Gibson Court reviewed
United States Supreme Court and Missouri court precedent and
Questions of hiring, ordaining, and retaining clergy [ ]
necessarily involve interpretation of religious doctrine,
policy, and administration. Such excessive entanglement
between church and state has the effect of ...