San Diego diocese wins on appeal

North County Times:

St. John’s Parish broke away from the Episcopal Church USA in July 2006 and aligned with an Anglican diocese in Uganda. After the change, the congregation continued to meet in the same church.

The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego and some members of St. John’s who did not want to break away from the Episcopal Church sued St. John’s Anglican in September of that year, claiming the Anglican congregation did not have the authority to claim ownership of the building.

A trial judge ruled in favor of the breakaway members. But the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that the breakaway members “lacked the power and authority” to change the bylaws and articles of incorporation in place when it affiliated with the Episcopal Church in 1973.

Read the decision (37 pages).

Unlike some other cases the central issue of this case was control rather than property ownership per se. The court decided which the loyalist vestry was in control.

This may be the key paragraph in the decision:

We conclude that (1) applying neutral principles of law, the defendants lacked the power and authority to amend the bylaws and articles of incorporation of the Parish corporation to make it part of the Anglican Church, and their actions in this regard are a legal nullity; (2) by taking the actions they did, defendants were no longer a part of the Episcopal Church and could not be the lawful directors; (3) we must give deference to the Episcopal Church and San Diego Diocese’s determination as to who constituted the true members of St. John’s Parish, and consequently the election of the individual defendants as board members of the Parish corporation was a legal nullity; and (4) applying neutral principles of law to the actions of the Episcopal Church and San Diego Diocese in determining who were the true members of the church, the result is the same. Accordingly, we reverse and remand this matter with directions that the court enter judgment for plaintiffs.

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