KANSAS CITY — The 10-year-old dispute between the Missouri Baptist Foundation and the Missouri Baptist Convention has landed back in Cole County Circuit Court.
A three-judge panel for the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, ruled Sept. 18 that the lower court failed to resolve all the issues in the case. Until it does so, an appeal cannot be made. The court dismissed the appeal and returned the case to Cole County.
Attorneys for both sides presented oral arguments before Western District on July 25. The appeal stemmed from a ruling by former Cole County Circuit Court Judge Paul Wilson and later amended by Cole County Judge Byron Kinder.
The appeal was the most recent legal step in a lawsuit the convention filed on Aug. 13, 2002, against Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Word&Way, The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University and the Foundation to overturn changes each entity made in its charter to elect its own trustees.
At the July 25 appeal hearing, MBF attorney Laurence Tucker contended Judge Wilson had "rushed to judgment" to rule before leaving the bench at the end of 2010. On Jan. 5, 2010, Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Judge Wilson to fill the unexpired term of Judge Richard Callahan, who resigned to become U.S. Attorney for Eastern Missouri. Judge Wilson ruled on the MBF case on Dec. 31, the day his term officially ended.
Tucker argued before the three-justice appellate panel that the Court of Appeals did not have jurisdiction because the rulings by both Judge Wilson and Judge Kinder were not final judgments since some issues were left unresolved. Judge Wilson "leaped to a series of conclusions," Tucker added. Contractual claims the MBC has made were not addressed, he said.
Michael Blanton, representing the convention, contended that the facts in the case against the Foundation, the rights granted to the convention and the fact that the MBF had amended its charter twice are "undisputed." The Foundation tried to negate the MBC's rights when it changed its governing documents.
Blanton also argued the convention does not claim the MBF's governing documents constitute a contract. Instead the two entities had entered a "series of separate transactions."
The appellate justices, however, agreed the lower court had not settled all the issues, and dismissed the case without ruling whether the MBC had standing, or the legal right, to file the lawsuit originally.
While pleased with the dismissal, Foundation leaders said they hope the litigation can be settled. "With this recent court decision, maybe we are one step closer to sitting down [with the MBC] and finding a way for a mutual resolution to this case," noted MBF President Chris Calmer by email. "We definitely need to end this and move on for the good of all."