Joyce Meyer Ministries must defend against a claim that it failed so badly in protecting the family of employee Christopher Coleman that his wife and three children died at his hands, Fifth District appellate judges ruled on Aug. 12.
They reversed associate judge Richard Aguirre, who dismissed a wrongful death action that Regions Bank filed as estate administrator for Sheri Coleman and sons Garrett and Gavin.
Justice Judy Cates wrote that the court decided only a procedural issue, and that neither party should take the resolution of the issue as a measure of the merits of the case.
She wrote that the allegations are broad and the plaintiff will have to present evidence to support them.
Coleman worked in security positions for Joyce Meyer Ministries from 2000 to 2009.
Starting in 2008, he used his work computer to email death threats directed at himself, his wife and their sons.
He killed his wife and sons on May 5, 2009, at their home in Columbia.
In 2011, Regions Bank sued Coleman, Joyce Meyer Ministries, Joyce Meyer and Daniel Meyer in Monroe County Circuit Court.
Coleman, serving a life sentence, did not answer the suit.
After discovery, the bank dismissed Joyce Meyer and Daniel Meyer pursuant to a stipulation.
Joyce Meyer Ministries moved to dismiss the action, and Aguirre granted the motion with permission for the bank to amend the complaint.
The bank amended the complaint to allege wrongful death under a theory of a negligent undertaking to protect the family from threatened harm.
The bank claimed that Joyce Meyer Ministries undertook, gratuitously or for consideration, to provide security services for the family.
The bank claimed that negligent performance of those services increased the risk of harm to the family, who in reliance on Joyce Meyer Ministries failed to take precautions of their own.
The bank also claimed Joyce Meyer Ministries negligently retained Coleman as employee.
Joyce Meyer Ministries answered that it didn’t undertake to protect the family from harmful acts of a third party, and that the bank didn’t connect Coleman’s retention to the murders.
Aguirre agreed with Joyce Meyer Ministries on both counts, but Fifth District judges found he shouldn’t have dismissed the claim of negligent undertaking.
Cates wrote, “In our view, the factual allegations and the reasonable inferences therefrom, when liberally construed and taken in a light most favorable to plaintiff, are sufficient to establish a duty of care owed by JMM to the decedents under a voluntary undertaking theory.”
“Given the gravity of the threats, it was objectively reasonable to anticipate that some harm might come to them,” she wrote.
Presiding Justice Thomas Welch and Justice Melissa Chapman concurred.
Antonio Romanucci of Chicago and Jack Carey of Belleville represented Regions Bank.
Dennis Field of Waterloo represented Joyce Meyer Industries, along with Greg Pittman and Michael King of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
They affirmed Aguirre in dismissing a claim that Joyce Meyer Ministries negligently retained Coleman as an employee.