Christian Conciliation Clause Upheld by Federal Court

Here’s another case where a court enforced the contract clause requiring parties to resolve their disputes in a Christian process rather than in the courts: Pettey v Share, US District Ct, SD-Miss, 10-01-2019.

Mr. Jernigan signed up for Medi-Share, a Christian organization in which members share medical costs, in 2014. Mr. Jernigan evidently later suffered injuries from a car accident. After he died, his Estate Administrator, Jacqueline Jernigan Pettey, sued Medi-Share in Federal Court, seeking reimbursement for Mr. Jernigan’s medical expenses. Medi-Share filed a motion to compel arbitration, which the court granted. The Estate asserted that there was no arbitration agreement. The court ruled that there was.

Medi-Share is a program run by Christian Care Ministry, Inc. (CCM). The Membership Form includes this clause:

2) I agree that in cases where all administrative appeals have been exhausted and after an appeal process, any and all remaining disputes will be settled safely as follows: by biblically-based mediation, not in a secular court. If resolution of the dispute and reconciliation does not result from mediation, the matter shall then be submitted to an independent and objective arbitrator for binding arbitration. I agree that suing fellow Christians, including Christian ministries, is contrary to scripture (1 Cor. 6:1-8); therefore, I will bring no suit, legal claim or demand of any sort against CCM in the civil court system, with the sole exception of enforcing any favorable arbitration award or mediated agreement.

The Court found that this provision in the Membership Form not only contained an arbitration provision, but also bound the Member to the Medi-Share Guidelines, which also contain an arbitration provision:

  1. Biblically-Based Mediation and Arbitration.As Christians, the Members and the staff of Christian Care Ministry believe that the Bible commands them to make every effort to live at peace and to resolve disputes with each other in private or within the Christian community in conformity with the biblical injunctions of 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Matthew 5:23-24, and Matthew 18:15-20. Therefore, the parties agree that any claim or dispute arising out of, or related to, this agreement or any aspect thereof, including claims under federal, state, local statutory or common law, the law of contract or law of tort, that may remain after a Member has exhausted his appeals provided for in Section XIII. B., including a determination whether this arbitration provision is valid, shall be settled by biblically-based mediation. The mediation shall be conducted in accordance with the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation of the Institute for Christian Conciliation, a division of Peacemaker Ministries (complete text of the rules is available at HisPeace.org), with each party to bear their own costs, attorney’s fees and 50% of the mediator’s fee, and with the mediation filing fee to be borne by CCM. If resolution of the dispute and reconciliation do not result from mediation, the matter shall then be submitted to an independent and objective arbitrator for binding arbitration. The parties agree that the arbitration process will also be conducted in accordance with the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation, with each party to bear their own costs, attorney’s fees, and 50% of the arbitrator’s fee, and with the arbitration filing fee to be borne by CCM. Each party shall agree to the selection of the arbitrator. If there is an impasse in the selection of the arbitrator, the parties agree that the Institute for Christian Conciliation shall choose the arbitrator. The parties agree that these methods of dispute resolution shall be the sole remedy for any controversy or claim arising out of this agreement, and they expressly waive their right to file a lawsuit against one another in any civil court for such disputes, except to enforce a legally binding arbitration decision.

The federal judge got it right. The contract clause is functioning as it’s supposed to: to direct disputes between Christians to be resolved within the church rather than in court. This case helps assure parties that this contract clause is legally-enforceable.

In full disclosure, I serve on the boards of both Peacemaker Ministries and the Institute for Christian Conciliation (they are now two separate entities).

 

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