SPRINGFIELD — The Missouri Baptist Convention’s effort to reclaim land at Windermere Baptist Conference Center in Roach is back in the hands of Camden County Circuit Court after an appeal was dismissed April 30.
A Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, three-judge panel dismissed an MBC appeal of a ruling last year in Camden County in the convention’s lawsuit to reclaim land Windermere once owned and acreage the conference center still uses.
The MBC is seeking the return of 1,300 acres, which includes 943 acres Windermere transferred to National City Bank of the Midwest in late 2005 as part of a debt-restructuring plan. The bank sold the property to Windermere Development Co. Inc., owned by William R. Jester of Springfield.
Camden County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Hayden dismissed the case against the conference center, its attorneys, several financial institutions and Jester in April last year. At that time, the judge determined the issues in the Camden County case mirror legal action the MBC took in Cole County against Windermere, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University, Word&Way and The Baptist Home in 2002.
The convention filed the Cole County case against the five in an effort to rescind changes in each entity’s articles of incorporation that allow each to elect its own trustees. In 2008, Cole County Judge Richard Callahan ruled Windermere had acted legally — a ruling the Western District appeals court upheld in 2009.
In the Camden County lawsuit, the MBC acknowledged the Cole County ruling but claimed it still has a right to the land, charging that Windermere and former MBC executive director Jim Hill had acquired the title through fraud. The convention appealed the case on June 30, 2009, and justices heard oral arguments on Jan. 15.
In their April 30 dismissal opinion, appellate justices noted that Judge Hayden had failed to indicate whether his ruling was made “with prejudice” — a final judgment, which could be appealed. If Judge Hayden had ruled “without prejudice,” the convention would have been able to file another lawsuit, instead of appealing the current case.
In addition, the justices determined the Camden County case could not be appealed because Judge Hayden had not dismissed it against former MBC executive director Jim Hill and his firm, RDI Inc.
The Appeals Court noted that defense claims that the Camden County lawsuit mirrored the Cole County legal action might have been solved if Judge Hayden had allowed MBC attorneys to amend the convention’s original petition. Missouri law does not allow plaintiffs to file multiple lawsuits on the same matter.
The appellate dismissal means the case would be returned to Camden County. Judge Hayden could clarify his ruling as final. Or the convention could file a motion to amend its petition, which, if granted, would require the case to be re-argued in Camden County.