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High court denies cert in several cases

The Supreme Court has refused to toss out a defamation award to a fired pastor, despite claims by the church that dismissed him that its actions are protected by the Constitution’s religious freedom guarantees.

The court on Monday rejected an appeal from the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in Vernonia, Ore., asking the justices to throw out a $355,000 jury award.

Tim Tubra was fired as an interim pastor in 2004 after church officials accused him of misappropriating church money. Tubra sued the church for defamation after he learned that officials had made the accusation public in a letter read aloud to the congregation.

The church argued it has a right to speak to members about church matters without any interference from the courts.

An Oregon appeals court disagreed.

The justices also turned down an appeal from a death row in inmate in Texas whose lawyers say they have been unable to get a court to consider claims that their client is mentally retarded, and thus ineligible for execution.

The court did not comment Monday in rejecting an appeal from Milton Mathis, who was convicted in the shooting deaths of two men in 1998.

Mathis’ lawyers said courts have never ruled on their contention, backed by expert testimony, that Mathis is mentally retarded. In 2002, the high court outlawed the execution of the mentally retarded.

The case is Mathis v. Thaler, 10-855.

In a third case, the high court refused to hear an appeal by New York City officials who want to make taxi companies buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Federal judges had blocked the city’s new taxicab fuel regulations.

City officials first wanted new taxicabs in 2008 to get at least 25 miles per gallon and 2009 taxicabs to achieve 30 miles a gallon. They then tried to force taxicab companies to go to hybrid cars by making it more expensive for them to buy fuel.

But federal judges say it’s up to federal agencies, not local officials, to regulate fuel economy and emissions standards.

The case is New York City v. Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, 10-618.