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Joseph Askew v. the Trustees of the General

March 11, 2011

JOSEPH ASKEW
v.
THE TRUSTEES OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE CHURCH OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST OF THE
APOSTOLICFAITH, INC., ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dalzell, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Joseph Askew here asserts various claims based on allegedly improper dealings in the management of The Trustees of the General Assembly of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc. ("Corporation"), a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation that manages the business of the General Assembly of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith ("Church"), an unincorporated association. The church complex is located at 22nd and Bainbridge Streets in Philadelphia.

Defendants*fn1 jointly move under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) to dismiss this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.*fn2

For the reasons detailed below, we shall grant defendants' motion and close the case. Askew has also moved to appoint a receiver. Because we find below that he does not have standing, we will deny that motion as moot for lack of jurisdiction.

I. Factual Background

This case has a long and winding history that we recounted in our July 21, 2009 Memorandum, and which we will revisit briefly here.

Bishop Sherrod C. Johnson founded the Church in 1919. Compl. ¶ 22; Def.'s First Joint Motion to Dismiss filed March 30, 2009, Ex. B, Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of Apostolic Faith, Inc. v Shelton, No. 376 C.D. 2000 (Apr. 10, 2001) at 2. On December 10, 1947, Bishop Johnson and other Church elders created a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation to conduct business on behalf of the Church and hold its assets. Compl. ¶ 23(I)*fn3.

The By-Laws of the Church provide for an annual meeting, called the General Assembly. Def. Renewed Joint Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) ("MTD"), Ex. A to Ex. 1, Art. I, Sec. 1. The General Assembly has two officers, a General Overseer (also called the General Elder, Apostle, or Bishop), and a General Secretary.

Id., Art I, Sec. 2. The General Overseer is elected to a lifetime appointment by the General Assembly. Compl. ¶ 25(II). The General Overseer nominates the General Secretary for terms of one year, and the General Assembly vote to ratify the choice.

MTD, Ex. A to Ex. 1, Art. VII. The By-Laws of the Church also provide that the Corporation holds title to any assets the Church acquires. Compl. ¶ 23(II), MTD, Ex. A to Ex. 1, Art. II, Sec. 2. The General Overseer is also the President of the Corporation, and only those the General Overseer authorizes can stand for election as the Corporation's Trustees. Compl. ¶ 25(II), MTD, Ex. A to Ex. 1, Art. II, Sec. 1.

On February 22, 1961, Bishop Johnson died and then-General Secretary S. McDowell Shelton succeeded him. Compl. ¶ 26. Bishop Shelton died on October 13, 1991. Id. ¶ 27. A succession crisis ensued.

Kenneth Shelton, Roddy J. Shelton, and Anthonee Patterson each claimed he had rightful control over the Church and the Corporation. Shelton, No. 376 C.D. 2000, at 4. Roddy Shelton was the General Secretary at the time, and, according to the By-Laws of the Church, should have succeeded Bishop Shelton as interim General Overseer until the next General Assembly. Id. at 5-6, 14-15. But some of the other Trustees disputed Roddy Shelton's succession, and prevented him from taking office. Id. at 6-7. Askew alleges that Kenneth Shelton, through threats and the use of physical force, took de facto control of both the Church and the Corporation. Compl. ¶¶ 19, 29. He avers that Kenneth Shelton and his followers physically removed Askew and others in the Roddy Shelton faction from a Church meeting held on May 23, 1992. Id. ¶ 19. Although he was removed from the property, Askew maintains that he remains a member of the Church to this day. Id.

The continuing dispute over leadership led the factions to hold separate meetings, each styled as a General Assembly, and each electing a different General Overseer. Shelton, No. 376 C.D. 2000, at 8. Protracted litigation then ensued. The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas ultimately determined, and the Commonwealth Court later affirmed, that Kenneth Shelton had been duly elected the General Overseer at the September 9, 1992 General Assembly. Id. at 9, 25.

Askew alleges that since taking control of the Church and Corporation, Kenneth Shelton and the Trustees of the Corporation have misappropriated funds, wasted assets, paid themselves salaries and stipends that are contrary to the word and spirit of the Articles and By-Laws, funded private expenditures with ...


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