This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C2-96-1066

Dan Naumann, parish council chairperson,

Immaculate Conception Church, petitioner,

Respondent,

vs.

Henry Zimmer,

Appellant.

Filed January 14, 1997

Affirmed

Harten, Judge

Anoka County District Court

File No. C0-96-896

Andrew J. Eisenzimmer, John C. Gunderson, Meier, Kennedy & Quinn, Chartered, 2200 North Central Life Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for Respondent)

Lawrence H. Crosby, Crosby & Associates, 25 Empire Drive, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for Appellant)

Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N

HARTEN, Judge

Appellant Henry Zimmer challenges a harassment restraining order prohibiting him from entering the property of respondent Immaculate Conception Church. Because we conclude that the district court properly excluded canon law evidence and lawfully issued the restraining order, we affirm.

FACTS

This is the latest in a series of legal disputes involving Zimmer and the Immaculate Conception Church. The church's former pastor, Father Walter Sochacki, previously banned Zimmer from church property for disruptive demonstrations and harassment; this culminated in the church obtaining a two-year restraining order that barred Zimmer from the premises. Following expiration of the order, Zimmer was allowed to return to the church, but discord between Zimmer and the church reoccurred and the church again initiated actions to ban him from its property.

As a religious corporation governed by Minn. Stat. § 315.15 (1996), and according to its bylaws, the church's board of directors includes the diocesan bishop and vicar general, the church's pastor, and two laypersons. The board of directors adopted a corporate resolution authorizing the current pastor, Father Paul Moudry, to send a letter to Zimmer banning him from church property and to enforce the ban through appropriate legal action. On January 21, 1995, Father Moudry's letter was hand-delivered to Zimmer.

Later, on three separate occasions, Zimmer attended services at the church despite being banned from the premises. On behalf of the church, Dan Naumann, the church's parish council chairperson, filed a petition and affidavit for a harassment restraining order. Following a hearing, the district court issued a restraining order that provided:

Henry S. Zimmer shall not enter upon the premises of the Petitioner, Immaculate Conception Church, which includes the front of the Church on 41st St. N.E., Jackson St., 40th St. N.E., and/or any other Church property.

The restraining order remains in effect until April 24, 1998. This appeal followed.

D E C I S I O N

We have held that caselaw construing the Minnesota Domestic Abuse Act applies to harassment restraining orders pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 609.748 (1996). See Anderson v. Lake, 536 N.W.2d 909, 911 (Minn. App. 1995) (domestic abuse act sufficiently similar to allow application of caselaw to section 609.748). Under the domestic abuse act, grant of relief is within the district court's discretion. Mechtel v. Mechtel, 528 N.W.2d 916, 920 (Minn. App. 1995). Consequently, our review of the district court harassment restraining order is limited to determining whether the district court abused its discretion.

Zimmer argues that the district court erred in issuing the restraining order because (1) the church did not initiate the instant action against Zimmer, (2) the district court improperly excluded canon law evidence, (3) the pastor was not authorized to ban Zimmer from church property, and (4) the restraining order is ambiguous and overly broad.

1. Zimmer contends that because the church, as the real party in interest, did not initiate the harassment proceedings, the entire action is void. We disagree. Our review of the record indicates that the parish council chairperson, Naumann, filed the original petition on behalf of the church. And even had it not been brought on behalf of the church, any defect has been cured by ratification. The Rules of Civil Procedure provide:

No action shall be dismissed on the ground that it is not prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest until a reasonable time has been allowed after objection for ratification of commencement of the action by, or joinder or substitution of, the real party in interest; and such ratification, joinder, or substitution shall have the same effect as if the action had been commenced in the name of the real party in interest.

Minn. R. Civ. P. 17.01. At the restraining order hearing, counsel for the church stated that the church ratified and joined the harassment petition originally filed by Naumann. Therefore, the church's ratification of the action had the same effect as if the petition had been filed by the church.

2. Zimmer asserts that the district court erred by refusing to admit evidence on canon law to establish whether Father Moudry had the authority to ban him from church property. The question of whether to admit evidence rests within the broad discretion of the district court and its rulings will not be disturbed unless they constitute an abuse of discretion or are based on an erroneous view of the law. Uselman v. Uselman, 464 N.W.2d 130, 138 (Minn. 1990).

Relying on a supreme court decision in a previous criminal trespass action against him, Zimmer asserts entitlement to apply canon law in the present harassment action. See State v. Zimmer, 487 N.W.2d 886 (Minn. 1992) (affirming the exclusion of canon law evidence). In its decision, the supreme court stated:

If [Zimmer] had called an expert on canon law to testify, portions of the Code [of canon law] (subject to requirements of relevancy and nonentanglement) might have been admissible.

Id. at 888 (citation omitted) (emphasis added). Zimmer maintains that this language is a "clear directive" entitling him to present canon law evidence. We reject this assertion.

Generally, the First Amendment prohibits civil courts from deciding ecclesiastical or doctrinal disputes. Piletich v. Deretich, 328 N.W.2d 696, 699 (Minn. 1982) (citing Maryland & Virginia Eldership of the Churches of God v. Church of God at Sharpsburg, 396 U.S. 367, 368-70, 90 S. Ct. 499, 500-01 (1970) (Brennan, J., concurring)). Civil courts can hear non-doctrinal disputes that can be determined utilizing neutral principles of law. Jones v. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595, 602-05, 99 S. Ct. 3020, 3024-3026 (1979); Piletich, 328 N.W.2d at 701-702.

Here, the district court had before it a religious corporation governed by Minn. Stat. § 315.15 and evidence of certain actions taken by that corporation. The district court admitted into evidence a proxy executed by the diocesan bishop and vicar general authorizing Father Moudry to appear on their behalf at the board meeting to ban Zimmer from church property. The district court also admitted into evidence the board of director's record of action and the parish corporation's resolution excluding Zimmer from church property. These secular documents provided the district court with a familiar and neutral basis to decide the harassment action before it. We believe that the admission of canon law evidence would compel the district court to construe and apply unfamiliar canons that are inherently doctrinal and ecclesiastical in nature; such evidence could lead to excessive entanglement that is prohibited under the Establishment Clause. See Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13, 91 S. Ct. 2105, 2111 (1971) (explaining the three-part test for challenges under the Establishment Clause).

Moreover, the factual foundation for the admission of canon law evidence was deficient. Zimmer's canon law expert was unaware of the action taken by the diocesan bishop and vicar general and the corporate resolution adopted by the board of directors. Without this information, the evidence proffered by Zimmer's canon law expert was without proper foundation and irrelevant. We conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the canon law evidence.

3. Zimmer asserts that the district court erred in issuing the restraining order. He maintains that Father Moudry did not have authority to ban him from church property, as the district court decided. We disagree.

As a corporate "person," the church had standing to obtain a harassment restraining order. See Dayton Hudson Corp. v. Johnson, 528 N.W.2d 260, 262 (Minn. App. 1995) (holding that a corporation is deemed a person for purposes of harassment restraining order statute). The church's board of directors took the appropriate corporate action to ban Zimmer from church property: (1) the archbishop and vicar general, as members of the board, executed a proxy authorizing Father Moudry to appear on their behalf and vote for them at the board meeting; (2) the church's board of directors convened and adopted a resolution to send a letter to Zimmer banning him from church property; (3) a letter banning Zimmer from church property was hand-delivered to Zimmer that same day; (4) Zimmer later attended services at the church and engaged in activities that harassed the church; (5) Naumann filed a petition for a harassment restraining order; and (6) the church ratified and joined the petition. Accordingly, we conclude that Father Moudry had the authority to ban Zimmer from church property and the district court did not abuse its discretion by issuing a restraining order.

4. Finally, Zimmer contends that the restraining order is ambiguous and overly expansive. We believe the language of the restraining order, quoted above, is sufficiently clear and tailored to protect the interests of both parties.

Affirmed.