Breaking!! Our appeal to the state Supreme Court has been accepted and oral argument is set for 9 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 5. pic.twitter.com/e8jrmoSSih
— Diocese • Fort Worth (@e_quips) August 30, 2019
Category : TEC Conflicts: Fort Worth
A S Haley unpacks the recent Second District Court of Appeals in Fort Worth Episcopal Church Decision
After reviewing the history of church property cases in the United States Supreme Court, and fleshing out what that Court meant by the term “neutral principles”, the Texas Court of Appeals then focused on its own Supreme Court’s recent decision in Masterson v. Diocese of Northwest Texas (Tex. 2013) 422 S.W.3d 594 as instructing how neutral principles of law are used to resolve church property disputes in Texas. It set out the following concise summary of Masterson’s holdings (pp. 78-79):
- Absent specific, lawful provisions in a corporation’s articles of incorporation or bylaws otherwise, whether and how a corporation’s directors or those entitled to control its affairs can change its articles of incorporation and bylaws are secular, not ecclesiastical matters, and an external entity—under the former or current statutory scheme—is not empowered to amend them absent specific, lawful provision in the corporate documents. Id. at 609–10 (citing Tex. Bus. Orgs. Code § 3.009; Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. Ann. art. 1396–2.09).
- The TEC-affiliated bishop could, as an ecclesiastical matter, determine which faction of believers was recognized by and was the “true” church loyal to the Diocese and TEC, and courts must defer to such ecclesiastical decisions, but his decision identifying the loyal faction as the continuing parish does not necessarily determine the property ownership issue, and his decisions on secular legal questions such as the validity of the parish members’ vote to amend the bylaws and articles of incorporation are not entitled to deference. Id. at 610.
- If the title to the real property is in the corporation’s name and the language of the deeds does not provide for an express trust in favor of TEC or the Diocese, then the corporation owns the property. Id.
These propositions are all correct statements of Texas law as expounded in Masterson. Followed correctly, they should have led to a correct decision in the Fort Worth case. Instead, look where the Salazar court ended up…
On April 5, 2018, the Second Court of Appeals issued its long-awaited Opinion in our dispute with TEC over the ownership of our church property, and it essentially reversed the previous trial court ruling in our favor (dated July 2015). After review by our legal team, we have concluded that this most recent appellate court opinion is not consistent with what the Texas Supreme Court previously decided when it addressed this controversy in 2013 and that we will appeal it.
In reversing the original trial court ruling in favor of TEC’s claims, the Supreme Court instructed the trial court to rehear the case and to use neutral principles of law in reaching a conclusion, instead of deference to TEC. This means that Texas laws concerning corporations, property, trusts, and unincorporated associations are to direct the outcome of the lawsuit.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled in the Masterson case (No. 11-0332) that:
- Changes made to “articles of incorporation or bylaws are secular, not ecclesiastical, matters.” (page 25)
- “…[W]e have held that Texas courts cannot simply use deference or identity methodology principles to resolve this type of issue.” (page 27)
- “…[I]dentifying the loyal faction” does not “determine the property ownership issue under this record, as it might under the deference or identity methodology.” (page 27)
We are disappointed that the appellate court chose to decide this as an identity case. We remain hopeful that we will prevail under neutral principles of law should the Texas Supreme Court address this controversy for the second time. We will file a petition for review in May or June but will likely not know whether the Court will take the case for decision until late this year or early 2019.
In the meantime, everything remains as it has been, as we continue to wait for a conclusion to this tiresome litigation now entering its tenth year before the courts. Our trust is in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, and we rely upon His grace to sustain us with faith and patience in the months to come. Please continue to pray for our legal team and for the justices who will address our petition.
After a second filing extension due to unavoidable caseload delays, the Diocese and Corporation filed two response briefs with the Second Court of Appeals, located in Fort Worth.Because the briefs filed in December made differing arguments, two response briefs were necessary. The TEC parties now have the opportunity to make a reply by March 24. These files are large and may require a few moments to load.
Bishop Iker and the people of the diocese of Fort Worth win case.
Today the Hon. John P. Chupp signed his Final Judgment concerning the Motions for Partial Summary Judgment filed last December by the TEC-loyal plaintiffs and the defendant Diocese, Parishes, and Corporation, as well as Motions for Partial Summary Judgment concerning the TEC-loyal All Saints’ Episcopal Church (Fort Worth) filed by these same parties on May 6. In doing so, the 141st District Court affirmed and combined its orders of March 2 and June 10 [see the entries below], which upheld the Diocese’s right to dissociate from TEC and for the Corporation to retain its property ”“ including All Saints’ parish property transferred from the Dallas Diocese ”“ and elected leadership.
Today’s judgment brings to a close a process started on Aug. 30, 2013, when the Supreme Court of Texas ordered that the case, initially decided using a “deference” approach, return to the trial court and that the court reconsider the parties’ claims, applying the Neutral Principles approach instead.
The trial court’s ruling now becomes appealable, and the TEC-affiliated plaintiffs have indicated their intention to ask the Second Court of Appeals for a review. In early August the court is expected to issue an order stating terms that will allow the TEC-affiliated congregation of All Saints’, Fort Worth, to remain in the property it now occupies during the duration of the appeal.
We give thanks for our many blessings, for God’s work among us, and for the Hope of Salvation that is within us. We are thankful, too, for the patient endurance of all those who have prayed and labored for this day, especially our legal team, their associates, and their families.
Judge Chupp has entered a final judgment against TEC, its rump diocese of Fort Worth and its parishes, thereby ending the lawsuit in which they sought to claim the corporation, property and bank accounts owned and controlled by Bishop Jack L. Iker and his co-trustees. Judge Chupp ordered that the plaintiffs “take nothing” from their complaint. This leaves all real property, corporate control and diocesan bank accounts exactly as they were after Bishop Iker and his Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth voted to leave TEC in November 2008.
The TEC parties have said they plan to appeal the final judgment to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal. However, any such appeal will be guided by the “neutral principles of law” announced by the Texas Supreme Court when it reversed Judge Chupp’s original judgment in their favor, based upon his belief that he was required by Texas law to defer to the “hierarchical” Episcopal Church. Under neutral principles, the Texas courts look solely to the documents establishing a party’s title: whose name is on the deeds, what trusts have been recorded, and what (if anything) the Church’s governing documents say about a diocese’s ability to amend its own constitution so as to remove its affiliation with the Episcopal Church.
A judge has ruled that a diocese in Texas which broke away from The Episcopal Church over theological differences is the rightful owner of its church property.
Judge John Chupp of Tarrant County ruled Wednesday that All Saints Episcopal Church belongs to the…Diocese of Fort Worth rather than the national denomination.
Early reports coming in
News has just been received that Bishop Iker and his Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth are the victors in the separately-tried lawsuit to determine the ownership of the grounds and property of All Saints, Fort Worth.
Judge John Chupp of the Tarrant County District Court had severed off the All Saints case, because its facts were more dependent on documents and circumstances that were not shared with all the other parishes in dispute…
Bishop Iker’s latest request was thus simply an attempt to go back to ground zero, before Mr. Hill started drawing the battle lines, and to take the real pulse of the entire All Saints congregation in order to arrive at an amicable, Paulian-motivated settlement of the dispute. The rump faction at All Saints once again has spurned any such resolution — acting, no doubt, in unity with ECUSA and its attorneys.
And so we see that little has changed, despite Bishop Iker’s success in the underlying lawsuit. The attorneys have agreed on some procedures to expedite the resolution or trial, if necessary, of the All Saints case, and there remain still other matters which the parties can address by means of further partial summary judgment motions. No one seems to think that there are any material disputed facts.
In a letter dated March 9, attorneys for The Episcopal Church and the TEC-affiliated All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Fort Worth rejected the Diocese’s offer to resolve the property dispute between the parish and Diocese through the Canon 32 process.
Read it all and follow the link.
Judge Chupp’s ruling is thus significant for a number of reasons:
1. For all practical purposes, it ended the case — in favor of Bishop Iker and his co-defendants. There are still some claims for damages and trademark infringement, etc., reserved for another day.
2. It agreed with the Texas Supreme Court that “neutral principles of law” were to be used to decide the issues in the case, and that their application was not retroactive, since Texas courts had been applying neutral principles to church property disputes for a number of years already.
This reference makes it sound as if the tradition of properties being controlled by the local diocese is a brand new concept, created by Iker and company in the very recent past. Did those ordinances “declare” this fact or affirm older traditions? Stop and think about it: Why was there such a bitter battle in Denver back in 1979 when the national church took the unusual step of creating and passing the Dennis Canon?
As always, I am not saying that journalists need to agree with Iker, or with High for that matter. The key is to understand the arguments being made by experts on both sides.
The bottom line: When dealing with Anglican controversies, it always helps to include specific dates in the timeline, while also remembering that these battles are being fought at the local, regional, national and global levels.
For the second time in as many months, a state court has sided with a group of breakaway Episcopalians, ruling that they can keep their property after leaving the national church in 2008 over sharp differences on homosexuality and the authority of Scripture.
Judge John P. Chupp of the 141st District Court in Tarrant County, Texas, ruled Monday (March 2) that more than 60 parishes in greater Fort Worth can retain their property and remain independent of the Episcopal Church.
By my count, 40 of the 91 cases listed resulted in legal victories at the trial or appellate level for ECUSA; just two parish cases (All Saints and the Good Shepherd San Angelo case in Texas) went the other way, but three of the five cases involving Dioceses resulted in rulings against ECUSA. A fourth diocese case (San Joaquin) is on appeal; the fifth one (Pittsburgh) gave a victory to ECUSA on the basis of a very strained reading of the effect of a stipulation between the parties.
It is a legitimate query to ask why the results of the parish cases are so lopsided in favor of ECUSA, while the results of the diocese cases go just the other way.
For the parishes, most of the decisions turned upon explicit language in their own bylaws that made them “perpetually” subject to their Diocese and ECUSA. No such language exists in any of the Dioceses’ governing documents, however. For the cases involving them, the explanation lies in the well-established freedom of association, which is a fundamental right enshrined in the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. It holds that just as no one can be prevented by the government from joining a group, so also the group may not go to court to prevent a member from leaving it. “Freedom of association therefore plainly presupposes a freedom not to associate,” as the Supreme Court put it in Roberts v. U.S. Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 623, 104 S. Ct. 3244, 3252, 82 L. Ed. 2d 462 (1984).
The liberals in ECUSA have a very difficult time trying to understand why their Church should be subject to such a doctrine. For them, the union between a Diocese and General Convention is an ecclesiastical one, and as such, they claim, civil courts should be precluded (by that same First Amendment!) from examining or questioning it in any way.
A moment’s reflection will expose the flaws in that argument (not that ecclesiastical liberals ever pay any attention to logic or reason). ECUSA is, ecclesiastically speaking, a denomination — but that says nothing about what it is in the eyes of the law. In order to sue or be sued in a civil court, for instance, ECUSA has to be a juridical person, not just an ecclesiastical one.
On Monday, March 2, 2015, the 141st District Court granted our Motion for Partial Summary Judgment regarding all diocesan property, with the exception of All Saints’, Fort Worth, which Judge Chupp severed for a separate trial.
Nearly six years after we were first sued by The Episcopal Church and its local representatives, the court has confirmed the Diocese’s right to dissociate from TEC and for the Corporation to retain its property.
“We are grateful for the ruling in our favor,” said Bishop Iker. “It’s clear that both church laws and Texas laws have been rightly applied to this dispute.”
In granting our motion, the Hon. John Chupp has ruled that Bishop Iker and the duly-elected officials of the Diocese and Corporation control the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, its Corporation, all endowments and funds, and all property that has been disputed in this litigation. The ruling is binding on all parties.
After a bitter, seven-year legal dispute, state District Judge John Chupp ruled Monday that the Episcopalians led by Bishop Jack Iker who broke away from the national Episcopal Church are entitled to an estimated $100 million in property in the 24-county Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.
Fort Worth-area Episcopalians who remained loyal to the national Episcopal Church and reorganized the diocese under Bishop Rayford High have the right to appeal the decision.
“We are grateful for the ruling in our favor. It is clear that both church laws and Texas laws have been rightly applied in this dispute,” Iker said.
Found here (right hand side at the top under the “News”).
Update–email from the Diocese:
Court rules for Fort Worth Diocese and Corporation…Late this afternoon, Judge Chupp released his ruling in our case. We praise God for His faithfulness. Bishop Iker will have a full statement tomorrow.
Partial Summary granted with exception on claims to do with All Saints Episcopal Fort Worth.
Oral arguments on each side’s motion for partial summary judgement were heard this morning in a two-hour hearing before the Hon. John Chupp, and a ruling is expected from him soon. The judge asked for each side to submit proposed orders to him on Monday, Feb. 23. He will likely select one of them to sign, subject to any alterations he may wish to make.
In the course of the hearing before several dozen clergy and lay people, Judge Chupp asked each side, “What are you asking me for today?” The Plaintiffs argued for a “simple solution” acknowledging that the property is held in trust for the Diocese and Congregations by those individuals recognized by The Episcopal Church.
The Diocese and Corporation countered that, under neutral principles of law as mandated for the trial court to follow, the Dennis Canon has been found by the Texas Supreme Court to have been revoked, leaving the property in trust for the parishes and missions in fellowship with the Diocese, and only those individual defendants before the court are the duly-elected officers of the Diocese and the Corporation.
Judge Chupp posed a number of questions to the Plaintiffs during their presentation, and the discussion was frequently animated. Near the conclusion of the hearing he indicated a philosophical preference for local self-determination, asking, “Why do we need to have a ”˜big government’ solution to this where a New York church says [what is best]?”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We were all greatly encouraged by the court ruling that came out of South Carolina last week, where the historic Diocese prevailed in its lawsuit against The Episcopal Church. Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein ruled that Bishop Mark Lawrence and his Diocese, under neutral principles of law, had legitimately withdrawn from TEC in 2012 and were entitled to retain all their buildings, assets, and intellectual property (name, identity, seal, etc.)
South Carolina’s Supreme Court had previously ruled that the Dennis Canon (that claims all church property is held in trust for TEC) was invalid in that State, and the Texas Supreme Court has made the same determination here in Texas. Under neutral principles of law governing property, trusts, and corporations in Texas, we believe we should prevail in the hearing before Judge Chupp on Friday, Feb. 20, here in Fort Worth.
The same conclusion was also reached recently in the appellate court system in Illinois, where the Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that there is nothing in the Constitution and Canons of TEC that prevents a Diocese from withdrawing, with its property and assets. The right to associate includes the right to dissociate. The Illinois Supreme Court denied an appeal from TEC attempting to reverse that ruling. And though TEC will be making a similar appeal in the South Carolina decision, it is expected that they will reach the same result.
In coming months, we expect TEC will once again be taking their losses in Illinois, South Carolina, and Texas to the United States Supreme Court, seeking reversals. We do not believe such efforts will succeed. Needless to say, all of this is a very expensive undertaking, costing both sides millions of dollars in legal fees and court costs that instead should be going for ministry and outreach in the world.
Continue to pray for our legal team as we prepare for the summary judgment hearing on the 20th and for clarity and insight for Judge Chupp in his ruling.
Thank you all for your continued faithfulness and for your witness to the Truth.
Faithfully in Christ,
–The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker, Bishop of Fort Worth
[Monday]…both the plaintiff TEC parties and the Diocese and defendant congregations filed Motions for Summary Judgment in the 141st District Court. The origial Motions were filed in December 2010, and the court’s January 2011 ruling was reversed by the Texas Supreme Court in August 2013, and the trial court was instructed to re-hear the case and render a ruling based on neutral principles of law. To that end, a hearing is now set for Feb. 20, 2015, before the Hon. John Chupp. Two more rounds of filings will be submitted to the court in the intervening weeks.
In his introduction to our filing, diocesan attorney Scott Brister writes,
From the outset of this litigation, the Plaintiffs’ lawsuit has been based not on equity but on wishful thinking and unfounded claims. The Plaintiffs filed suit claiming that a diocese cannot disaffiliate from TEC ”“ even though not a single provision in TEC’s charters says so. The Plaintiffs insisted they represented the Corporation and the Diocese ”“ but the Second Court of Appeals held that they did not. The Plaintiffs insisted that Texas courts follow the deference approach ”“ but the Texas Supreme court held they do not. The Plaintiffs insisted that the Dennis Canon was irrevocable ”“ but the Texas Supreme Court held it was not. Despite these repeated judicial rebukes, the Plaintiffs still assert every one of these claims to this day.
The following PDF documents have been submitted to the court….
Read it all by following all the pdfs.
The biggest event in this schism occurred in 2008, when the leadership of the entire Fort Worth, Texas, diocese led a break with the parent church, and took with them out of that denomination the property of 47 parish churches in 24 counties ”“ property worth more than $100 million overall. The parent church fought back, but ultimately lost in the Texas Supreme Court. From now on, and in this case, that state court ruled, church property disputes were to be decided by the “neutral principles” approach, no longer deferring to church structure arrangements. Examining the trust document under which the parent church had claimed ownership of the local property, the state court said that did not square with state civil law.
With support from a wide array of mainstream religious organizations and advocacy group, the Episcopal Church took the case to the Supreme Court, arguing that the time had come for the court to abandon the “neutral principles” approach and return to the deference approach. The parent church, it contended, had done everything it could to establish the parent’s dominion over property, and yet that was not enough.
The breakaway congregations in Fort Worth and their bishop urged the Supreme Court to stay out of the case, noting that the Justices had passed up other appeals on the issue, and commenting that the dispute in Texas has not yet become final.
Read it all from Lyle Denniston.
We give thanks this morning that the Supreme Court of the United States has denied the petition of the TEC plaintiffs for a reversal of the Texas Supreme Court ruling of August 2013. We are grateful to attorneys Aaron Streett and Michelle Stratton for presenting our response to the Court.
This development allows us to turn full attention to the Summary Judgment filing that will soon be made in the 141st District Court. In addition, we are assured that the Texas Supreme Court ruling will govern the outcome of our case.
“We are pleased,” said Bishop Iker, “that the Supreme Court has agreed with our position that the TEC petition for a review was without merit. We now move forward to a resolution of this case under neutral principles of law as applied in the State of Texas.”
Analysis of the decision may be found on attorney Allan Haley’s blog.
Today the Supreme Court of the United States issued its order denying (without opinion) review (“certiorari”) of the decisions rendered last September by the Supreme Court of Texas in the Fort Worth and San Angelo cases.
The order was expected, because neither decision by the Texas Supreme Court was final. The U. S. Supreme Court almost never agrees to review lower court decisions until they are final. In these two cases, the Fort Worth matter was sent back to Judge Chupp’s court for a trial, and the Church of the Good Shepherd case was likewise sent back to the trial court in San Angelo for further proceedings.
The action by SCOTUS now frees both of those cases to move ahead.
The Supreme Court has turned away a pair of appeals from the national Episcopal Church in a dispute over church property claimed by a…[Anglican group in Texas].
In response to a request by the U.S. Supreme Court to file a brief in response to TEC’s June 19 appeal, attorneys for the Diocese and Corporation today filed our 49-page Brief in Opposition. TEC seeks reversal of the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in our favor. Our Brief supports the Neutral Principles approach to church property disputes that was issued by the nation’s highest Court in 1979.
Aaron Streett, the diocesan Counsel of Record, offers the following timeline: “We anticipate TEC’s reply will be filed by October 14. We anticipate the Court will vote on whether to grant certiorari on Oct. 31. The outcome of that vote could be known as early as that afternoon or the following Monday. It is also possible the Court will “re-list” the case for consideration at future conferences, which could delay the decision.”
Similarly, attorneys for the Church of the Good Shepherd in San Angelo have filed a Brief upon the Court’s request. TEC and the Diocese of Northwest Texas appealed the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in that case, too.
Please keep the Justices and their staff in your prayers.