Appeals court turns down agencies' rehearing request - Word&Way

Appeals court turns down agencies’ rehearing request

In a single sentence, the Missouri Court of Appeals turned down a motion for a rehearing in the continuing legal struggle between the Missouri Baptist Convention and five related institutions.

The order, issued on Aug. 2, overruled the motion for a rehearing and denied the agencies' motion for the case to be transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court. Lawyers for the entities have until Aug. 17 to directly petition the Supreme Court to consider the case. MBC attorneys would have 10 days in which to respond to the agencies' request.

Attorneys for The Baptist Home, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Missouri Baptist University, Word&Way and the Missouri Baptist Foundation filed a request for rehearing with the Appeals Court on June 15 in response to a preliminary opinion the court issued on May 31.

In that opinion, the three-judge appellate panel reversed Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown's March 24, 2004, decision to dismiss legal action against the five institutions.

In 2000 and 2001, the five institutions changed their charters to allow each entity to elect its own trustees. In the past, the convention had elected board members. The MBC Executive Board and six affiliated churches filed legal action against the five agencies on the convention's behalf in August 2002.

The six churches include Springhill Baptist Church, Springfield; Oakwood Baptist Church, Kansas City; Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City; and First Baptist churches of Arnold, Bethany and Branson.

Judge Brown had ruled the plaintiffs did not have standing — the legal right — to file the action on the convention's behalf.

The agencies' June 15 motion asked the appellate court to modify its opinion. The appellate judges agreed that the Executive Board as a corporation and the six churches did not have standing. Both Judge Brown and the appellate court recognized messengers as members.

However, the court held that the Executive Board has the legal right to sue as a representative of the convention because the board is composed of members, and members elect its officers.

Entity attorneys are considering requesting the Supreme Court to review the case, because even if a "membership link" exists, the Appeals Court did not identify which "members" have legal standing to file a lawsuit.

For instance, would those who file have to be members of the current Executive Board, of the 2002 board that authorized legal action to be filed, or of the 2000-01 board in place when the institutions changed their charters?

And would those board members have to have served as messengers to the annual session in the year or years in which they served on the Executive Board?

If the Supreme Court turns down the request, the lawsuit would return to Judge Brown's court.

MBC attorneys have indicated that if the case is returned to Cole County, they would seek to combine it with a second lawsuit the convention and five individuals filed on Oct. 25, 2004.

The five individuals include Robert Curtis, pastor of Ballwin Baptist Church; Mitchell Jackson, pastor of Miner Baptist Church, Sikeston, and 2005 MBC president; James Plymale, messenger from First Baptist Church, Villa Ridge, and director of missions for Franklin County Baptist Association; Lyn Heying, messenger from New Oakland Baptist Church, Ralls County; and James Moore, messenger from Concord Baptist Church, St. Louis.

That case is pending before Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan until the appeals process in the first lawsuit is completed. (08-04-05)