KANSAS CITY — A federal court has refused to hear the ongoing Baptist struggle over 1,300 acres at Lake of the Ozarks.
On June 23, the Missouri Baptist Convention filed a motion to send its legal action in Camden County against Windermere Baptist Conference Center to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. Chief U.S. District Judge Fernando J. Gaitan Jr. Sept. 17 ordered the case returned to Camden County.
The MBC sought the return of the property, 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 the late William R. Jester of Springfield.
The development firm filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 14 to halt a foreclosure sale in Camden County. Convention attorneys used the bankruptcy proceedings as a reason to request federal jurisdiction in its Camden County claim.
The convention lost its bid to have the case moved to federal court because it failed to file its request within the appropriate time frame, Judge Gaitan ruled. Defendants in the case — including the conference center and several financial institutions — argued that the MBC had 30 days to file from the date its attorneys learned the development company had filed for bankruptcy.
The MBC argued that the 30-day window began when Camden County Judge Kenneth Hayden granted permission for the MBC to amend its action in the state district court.
Judge Gaitan determined the MBC should have filed its request within 30 days after a Missouri appellate court issued its formal ruling on May 18 in the convention's appeal of Judge Hayden's dismissal in April 2009.
At that time, Judge Hayden determined the issues in the Camden County case mirror legal action the MBC took in Cole County against the conference center, 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.
The state appellate court returned the case to Camden County, noting Judge Hayden had failed to indicate whether his ruling was final and that Hill and his firm, RDI Inc., had not been included in the dismissal.
In his Sept. 17 ruling, Judge Gaitan acknowledged that even if the MBC motion had been filed within 30 days, the federal court still would not have had jurisdiction because the MBC case was not a result of Windermere Development's bankruptcy. The convention's legal action in Camden County began before the bankruptcy proceeding was filed and can be handled by the state, the judge ruled.
Jester, who passed away June 2, had filed a $15-million counterclaim against the convention, charging malicious prosecution, interfering with business, negligence, and false and misleading communications, which kept other companies from doing business with him.
Related story: Legal action timeline