The Utah Court of Appeals has ruled that a father locked in an international custody battle with his former wife in Japan cannot sue The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for ordaining his two sons into the LDS priesthood against his wishes.
In a ruling published Thursday, the appeals court said a lower district court rightfully dismissed a suit filed against the church by Michael Gulbraa, who describes himself as a non-practicing Mormon, claiming fraud and breach of contract. The appellate judges stated such a cause of action would "excessively entangle the court in either the church's religious operations, the interpretation of its teachings, the performance of its ceremonies, or the governance of its affairs."
Gulbraa said LDS Church leaders ignored his wishes not to ordain his sons, at the time 11 and 12, in Japan while he and his ex-wife were battling for custody.
Gulbraa's attorney, Kevin Bond, argued before the Court of Appeals last month, saying the church should have obeyedGulbraa's wishes since he is the boys' sole guardian. The father also argued that church officials instructed other church members not to give him information about his children.
After his ex-wife took the children from Utah to her home country of Japan, in violation of a Utah judge's orders, Gulbraa was awarded custody of the children. Federal prosecutors have filed international kidnapping charges against the ex-wife, Etsuko Tanizaki, and her new husband, who currently reside in Japan.
One son, now 16, recently made his way to the United States and is staying with his father, who now lives in Indiana.
However, the appeals court did find the father can still sue the LDS Church for a claim of emotional distress because that claim does not implicate church doctrine.
Gulbraa claims that when he tried to get information about his children through the church, church leaders had instructed members not to give him any information.
"The trial court erred in dismissing that claim as it relates to the allegations that church leaders affirmatively acted to conceal the children from plaintiff," the ruling states.
Gulbraa said he was disturbed when his 16-year-old son said he did not agree to the ordination.Bond said his client intends to pursue the remaining claims in 3rd District Court and is reviewing options for appealing the Appeals Court decision.