Dismissal of church bell suit recommended

The St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Narragansett.

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) – A federal magistrate recommends dismissing a lawsuit a Narragansett man brought against a local church over the ringing of bells.

Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan made the recommendation in documents filed on Thursday.

Narragansett resident John Devaney filed the federal suit against St. Thomas More Church, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence and several other parties alleging that the constant ringing of the church’s bells across the street from his home “denied him peaceful enjoyment of his property” and ruined his marriage. He claimed that the bells have rung 700 times a week for at least 13 years.

Devaney, representing himself, originally filed the suit in July 2013 and at the time named only Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, arguing that the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and detailing his unsuccessful efforts to have the bell-ringing stopped or reduced.

The court rejected the claim because, according to Sullivan, “Mr. Devaney had failed to explain how the allegedly unconstitutional state statute was related to his unsuccessful efforts to reduce the offensive – to him – volume of the church bells and had failed to name any person or entity responsible for his injury.”

Sullivan recommended at the time that either Devaney file an amended claim or the suit be dismissed. Devaney then amended the claim to also include the nearby St. Peter’s by-the-sea Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Providence and several other groups – including Pope Francis, although the Pope was never properly served – and re-filed the suit, demanding that the churches reduce the amount and volume of the bell ringing, demanding that Kilmartin strike down the state statute in question, and demanding monetary compensation for damages.

In Thursday’s recommendation, Sullivan wrote that Devaney had still not properly presented a legitimate claim arising from Constitutional issues and said that the suit be dismissed without prejudice unless Devaney files another amended claim within thirty days “that both states a plausible federal claim and conforms to the applicable procedural pleading requirements.”

“While Mr. Devaney’s exasperation is clear as a bell in his Amended Complaint, the connection between his pique and a plausible federal cause of action is not,” Sullivan wrote. “It is conceivable that he may have an important claim arising under the United States Constitution; however, his pleading does not articulate one.”

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