Court rejects diplomatic immunity and 1st amendment claims as to church’s auto registration

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Living In Jesus Truth Ministry v. Wise, (D NV, Aug. 3, 2012), Tod Brenbarger, a minister for Living In Jesus Truth Ministry, sued challenging an administrative fine that had been imposed by Nevada for registering two vehicles to the church at a fictitious address. He used post office boxes instead of a physical address as required by Nevada law. In the state proceedings, Brenbarger claimed immunity as a public minister of World Prayers Answered, which he asserted is a foreign ecclesiastical state. The state court judge delayed ruling on the claim and Brenbarger failed to appear for the next hearing. So the fine against him was upheld. At that point Brenbarger filed this suit in a Nevada federal district court, asking for a total of $60 million in damages and interest against the administrative law judge and the state attorney general and her staff. The court dismissed these claims on 11th Amendment and quasi-judicial immunity grounds. As to Brenbarger’s claim for injunctive relief against the Department of Motor Vehicles, the court held that Brenbarger “failed to plausibly allege that World Prayers Answered is a sovereign ecclesiastical state.” It also rejected his claim that  DMV violated his and his church’s “First Amendment right for a church to not have a fixed address.”  It held that as a pro se litigant, Brenbarger cannot represent the church in court.  Corporations must be represented by counsel. It also found no free exercise or Establishment Clause violations as to Brenbarger personally in the vehicle registration requirement.