Is it “manifestly unjust to enforce” legal rules and procedures? That’s the question an appeals court justice posed in a March 25 ruling on litigation against Windermere Baptist Conference Center, an individual and several financial institutions.
And a question the Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board may need to ask itself.
The MBC lost its bid to reclaim Windermere and its property when a three-judge Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, panel affirmed a Camden County Circuit Court decision in Windermere’s favor. The convention lost on procedural grounds of its own making, according to the appeal court’s ruling.
On Nov. 1, 2006, the MBC filed a quiet title claim against Windermere in Camden County where the conference center is located.
In their ruling, justices pointed out that the Executive Board had failed to follow rules that required it to support its facts or deny facts Windermere presented by using discovery, exhibits or affidavits. The MBC tried to add information.
It also tried to reference material that the lower court had not allowed and so could not be considered by the appellate justices. The court, the justices said, was to review the challenged rulings, not to examine all the records and become an advocate for one side.
“It is not the function of this Court to develop the facts and thereby do the work of an advocate on appeal,” Chief Justice William W. Francis Jr. wrote in the opinion.
“The Executive Board has now presented its claim to a Missouri appellate court on four occasions, and at this stage, we simply cannot overlook The Executive Board’s gross violations” of the rules.
The convention now has three possible legal options. First, it can ask the full district court to consider the case. If the court declines, the MBC can request the case be transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court. If the district court refuses to do so, the Executive Board could approach the high court directly. The state Supreme Court would then either approve or deny the request.
The Executive Board filed the Camden County action while awaiting a ruling on its appeal in a lawsuit it had filed against Windermere and four other entities formerly affiliated with the MBC.
In 2000 and 2001, The Baptist Home, Word&Way, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University and Windermere changed their governing documents to allow each to elect its own trustees. The convention filed litigation in Cole County Circuit Court against the five on Aug. 13, 2002, in an attempt to regain control of them.
The Cole County case against Windermere was dismissed on March 11, 2004. An appeal to the Western District sent the case back to the lower court. Again, the Cole County court ruled in Windermere’s favor, and the appeal’s court upheld the decision on Feb. 3, 2009. The state Supreme Court turned down the MBC request to examine that ruling.
In addition to Windermere, the Camden County case included former MBC Executive Director James Hill, Reliance Trust Co., National City Bank of the Midwest, Consolidated Mortgage Inc. and First American Title Missouri Agency Inc. as defendants.
In a clearly stated history of the litigation, the justices noted that 3,074 messengers attended the 2000 MBC annual meeting at which Windermere’s articles of incorporation were approved.
They also pointed out an agreement between Hill and the Executive Board when Hill resigned in October 2001 that released him from liability for any claims that might be made against him. The document showed that “the terms of this release are contractual.”
Legal wrangling will continue between Windermere and the MBC. Windermere filed suit against the convention last fall in an effort to move ahead with utility improvements required by the state. In that legal action, the conference center seeks $10 million in damages for interference with its business, “injurious falsehood,” “slander of title” and “breach of warranty.”