Argued December 9, 2014
Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (CAB-9083-12). (Hon. Neal E. Kravitz, Trial Judge).
Leonard J. Koenick for appellant.
Earl N. Mayfield, with whom Michael P. Lewis was on the brief, for appellee.
Before THOMPSON, EASTERLY, and MCLEESE, Associate Judges.
Thompson, Associate Judge
In December 2012, appellant Abune Samuel, identifying himself as the " duly constituted and appointed Archbishop of the Washington DC area diocese of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Churches in the Diaspora[,]" filed a Complaint against appellees Nega Lakew and Tesfaye Nega -- identified in the Complaint as, respectively, the President of the Board of Directors of Kedus Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (" Kedus Gabriel" ) and head of the Kedus Gabriel Parish Administrative Council. The Complaint announced that the case " involves control over real property located at 2601 Evarts Street, N.E. [the " Evarts Street property" ] . . . and owned by Kedus Gabriel[.]" The Complaint sought, inter alia, the following injunctive relief: that appellees " be directed to forthwith turn over to Archbishop Abune Samuel any and all property belonging to Kedus Gabriel" and that each appellee " cease and desist from holding himself out in any manner as an administrator or member of the Parish Council of Kedus Gabriel[.]"  After defendants/appellees Lakew and
Nega moved for summary judgment, the trial court (the Honorable Neal Kravitz) dismissed the Complaint, concluding that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction " to resolve the matter of control of the [Kedus] Gabriel church[.]" In a subsequent order denying appellant's motion to amend the judgment, Judge Kravitz stated that he " remain[ed] of the view . . . that the First Amendment does not permit a civil court to determine the religious leader of a religious institution[.]"
Appellant contends that Judge Kravitz had jurisdiction to make a finding that Kedus Gabriel is part of the hierarchical Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in the Diaspora and to grant injunctive relief based on deference to the church hierarchy's decision to remove appellees from their positions as Kedus Gabriel administrators. He asks us to remand this matter for the Superior Court to make " a determination of the true form of the organizational structure of Kedus Gabriel[.]"
For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment ...