Recent Developments in Texas Regarding Employment Practices

A federal court in Texas ruled that a church could collect court costs that it paid in successfully defending itself in a lawsuit.

Church Law and Tax1998-01-01

Employment Practices

Key point. A church that successfully defends a lawsuit may be entitled to collect court costs from the losing party.

A federal court in Texas ruled that a church could collect court costs that it paid in successfully defending itself in a lawsuit. The lawsuit was brought by two women who entered into sexual relationships with their pastor during marital counseling. The women later sued their church, claiming that it was responsible for the emotional damages they had suffered as a result of negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and emotional distress. A court ruled in favor of the church, and the church’s attorney promptly asked the court to compel the women to pay the church’s court costs. The court agreed, on the basis of Rule 54 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which specifies that “costs other than attorneys’ fees shall be allowed as [a matter] of course to the prevailing party.” While the court did not compel the women to pay the church’s attorneys’ fees, it did compel them to pay all court costs, which were considerable.

Application. Churches that are successful in defending themselves in a lawsuit often are so relieved to have been vindicated that they give little if any thought to the possibility of collecting court costs against the party who sued them and forced them to endure months if not years of litigation. As this case illustrates, the prevailing party in a federal lawsuit is entitled to have the losing party pay its court costs, and a similar rule exists in many states. This is a point that should be considered in the euphoria that accompanies a court victory. Sanders v. Baucum, 929 F. Supp. 1028 (N.D. Tex. 1996). [ Negligence as a Basis for Liability—Defenses]

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