St. Brendan High School, Inc., et al., Petitioners,
Magali Neff, et al., Respondents.
final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
of Original Jurisdiction - Prohibition. Lower Tribunal No.
Patrick Fitzgerald & Associates, P.A., and Roberto J.
Diaz and Maura Fitzgerald Jennings; Gaebe Mullen Antonelli
& DiMatteo, and Joseph M. Winsby and Michael A. Mullen,
Levy; James J. Traitz, for respondents.
SALTER, SCALES and LINDSEY, JJ.
Brendan High School, Inc. ("St. Brendan") and the
Archdiocese of Miami, Inc. ("Archdiocese") petition
for a writ of prohibition to preclude the circuit court from
exercising subject-matter jurisdiction over two counts in a
pending lawsuit. The petition (and the motion to dismiss in
the circuit court) invokes the ecclesiastical abstention
doctrine. We deny the petition.
recently-decided appeal from a non-final order in the same
circuit court case, we briefly described the lawsuit:
St. Brendan, a private Catholic high school in Miami-Dade
County, Florida, expelled high school student, Michelle Neff,
when her parents, Magali and Herbert Neff, filed a personal
injury action against the school after Michelle was injured
while performing community service at Good Hope Equestrian
Training Center, Inc., an organization listed on St.
Brendan's approved community service list. St. Brendan
maintains that filing the suit against the school violated
school policy, specifically certain school handbook
St. Brendan High Sch., Inc. v. Neff (St. Brendan
I), 275 So.3d 220, 221-22 (Fla. 3D DCA 2019) (footnote
Neffs' first amended complaint ("Complaint")
consists of ten counts. Count IX alleges that St
Brendan's administrative withdrawal (disenrollment) of
their daughter breached their enrollment agreement such that
she should be readmitted as a student and provided
"whatever remediation is necessary in order for [her] to
become current with regard to her academic
alleges that St. Brendan's disenrollment of the
Neffs' daughter inflicted severe emotional distress upon
her and seeks a judgment for money damages. St. Brendan and
the Archdiocese moved for the dismissal of counts IX and X
based on their contentions that the student's
disenrollment was based on the Neffs' prosecution of a
lawsuit against St. Brendan in violation of the
Parent-Student Handbook ("Handbook") provisions and
the religious teachings and standards imposed by the
Brendan's and the Archdiocese's motion to dismiss
included their contention that the trial court lacked
subject-matter jurisdiction based on the First Amendment to
the United States Constitution and case law comprising the
"ecclesiastical abstention doctrine" or, as it
sometimes also known, the "church autonomy
doctrine." The trial court denied the ...