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Nally v. Grace Community Church of the Valley

47 Cal. 3d 278, 253 Cal. Rptr. 97, 763 P.2d 948 (1988)

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Nally v. Grace Community Church of the Valley

California Supreme Court

47 Cal. 3d 278, 253 Cal. Rptr. 97, 763 P.2d 948 (1988)

Facts

In 1979, Kenneth Nally committed suicide. Nally had a history of depression and had been participating in Grace Community Church of the Valley’s (defendant) ministries and pastoral counseling programs for several years before his death. Nally also saw a secular psychologist for his depression, discussing topics similar to those that he discussed with Grace’s clergymen (defendants) including life, relationships, and family issues. Three weeks before his death, Nally was hospitalized for overdosing on antidepressants. Nally confessed his wish that he had succeeded in his suicide attempt to one of Grace’s clergymen and a hospital-staff psychiatrist. The psychiatrist recommended that Nally voluntarily commit himself to a mental-health institution, but Nally refused, with the encouragement of his parents who did not believe that Nally was insane. When Nally was released from the hospital, he went to stay with another of Grace’s clergymen, who encouraged Nally to continue to see the hospital psychiatrist and arranged for Nally to be examined by a physician. Before Nally’s death, several clergymen referred Nally to see physicians, and one referred Nally to a psychiatrist. Nally’s parents (plaintiffs) sued Grace for wrongful death, alleging clergyman malpractice and negligence for failure to prevent Nally’s suicide. A trial court nonsuited the matter. However, a court of appeals reversed, holding that non-therapists have a duty to refer suicidal counselees to qualified psychiatrists or psychotherapists to prevent suicide. Grace appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Lucas, C.J.)

Concurrence (Kaufman, J.)

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