CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST, INC., ET AL. v. L. M. HALEY MINISTRIES, INC., ET AL. - Articles

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Posted by: Landry Butler on Sep 21, 2017

Head Comment: With concurring opinion by KIRBY.

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys 1:

Darrell James O’Neal, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellants, Church of God in Christ, Inc., Bishop David A. Hall, Gospel Center Temple Church of God in Christ, and Gospel Temple Church of God in Christ.

Attorneys 2:

Robert L.J. Spence, Jr., Bryan M. Meredith, and Veronica F. Coleman-Davis, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellees, L. M. Haley Ministries, Inc., Gospel Center Temple Church Moscow, Inc., Lonnie M. Haley, III, Jeremiah R. Haley, Ulysses C. Polk, Barry C. Turner, Milton Holt, Sr., and Erskine J. Murphy.

Judge(s): CLARK

We granted this appeal to determine whether the Court of Appeals properly affirmed the trial court’s decision dismissing this lawsuit involving a dispute over the right to use and control church property for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. This doctrine derives from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and prohibits civil courts from resolving church disputes on the basis of religious doctrine and practice. We conclude that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine does not apply in this lawsuit. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’s dismissal is reversed. Furthermore, we conclude that the undisputed facts establish that the plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment, and we remand this matter to the trial court for any other further proceedings and orders that may be necessary to afford the plaintiffs possession and control of the disputed church real property and to address the plaintiffs’ requests for an accounting and control of the disputed church personal property.