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[U] Thomas v. The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 30, 2013

SANDRA M. THOMAS, Appellant
v.
THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF CHESTNUT HILL, Appellee DR. SANDRA M. THOMAS, Appellant
v.
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF CHESTNUT HILL, THE PRESBYTERY OF PHILADELPHIA, INC., THE PRESBYTERIAN SYNOD OF THE TRINITY, THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH U.S.A., Appellees

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Order Dated September 18, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No(s): September Term, 2009, No. 3055.

Appeal from the Order Dated September 27, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No(s): July Term, 2012, No. 120703157.

BEFORE: BOWES, DONOHUE, and OTT, JJ.

MEMORANDUM

BOWES, J.

The Reverend Dr. Sandra M. Thomas appeals from a September 18, 2012 order denying her request to re-open a judgment entered against her in this action, which the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill filed against her. She also challenges a September 27, 2012 order dismissing a complaint that she filed in this same lawsuit against the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, the Presbytery of Philadelphia, Inc., the Presbyterian Synod of the Trinity, and the Presbyterian Church of U.S.A. We transfer this appeal to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.

In her complaint filed at the present case, Appellant averred that: 1) "The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill Inc. . . . is a non-profit religious corporation duly organized under the laws of the Commonwealth Pennsylvania." Complaint at ¶ 6; 2) "The Presbytery of Philadelphia, Inc. . . . is a non-profit corporation duly organized under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." Id. at ¶ 7; 3) "The Presbyterian Synod of the Trinity, Inc. . . . is a non-profit corporation duly organized under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." Id. at ¶ 8; and 4) "The Presbyterian Church, USA Inc. . . . is a non-profit corporation duly organized under the laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky." Id. at 9. The present appeal concerns Appellant's removal from her post within the Appellee organizations.

Our legislature has determined that, with an exception inapplicable herein, the Commonwealth Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction of appeals from final orders of the courts of common pleas in the following cases:

(5) Certain private corporation matters.--
(i) All actions or proceedings relating to corporations not-for-profit arising under Title 15 (relating to corporations and unincorporated associations) . . .
(ii) All actions or proceedings otherwise involving the corporate affairs of any corporation not-for-profit subject to Title 15 or the affairs of the members, security holders, directors, officers, or employees or agents thereof, as such.

42 Pa.C.S. § 762(a)(5). This appeal involves four non-profit charitable organization and pertains to their internal affairs and matters involving their regulation of a member of their clergy.[1] Thus, the Commonwealth Court has exclusive jurisdiction over the present appeal.

The legislature has also determined that if an appellee does not object to the improper jurisdiction, "unless the appellate court otherwise orders, " then jurisdiction will vest in the court in which the appeal was originally, albeit improperly, filed. 42 Pa.C.S. § 704(a);[2] see also Rosenberg v. Holy `Redeemer Hospital, 506 A.2d 408 (Pa.Super. 1986) (accepting jurisdiction over matter in which Commonwealth Court had exclusive jurisdiction where appellee did not object).

However, we can decide, as outlined in § 704(a), to transfer a case, regardless of whether an appellee has objected to where the appeal was filed. See Trumbull Corp. v. Boss Construction Inc., 747 A.2d 395, 399 n. 4 (Pa.Super. 2000). When we decide whether to retain an appeal,

we must balance the interests of the parties and matters of judicial economy against other factors such as: (1) whether the case has already been transferred, Karpe v. Borough of Stroudsburg, 315 Pa.Super. 185, 461 A.2d 859 (1983); (2) whether our retention will disrupt the legislatively ordained division of labor between the intermediate appellate courts; and (3) whether there is a possibility of establishing two conflicting lines of authority on a particular subject. Newman v. Thorn, 359 Pa.Super. 274, 518 A.2d 1231 (1986). Moreover, each transfer should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Id. at 399.

Our consideration of these as well as other factors lead us to the conclusion that it is appropriate to transfer this matter to the Commonwealth Court. This case has not been previously transferred, and our retention of the appeal would upset the legislature's decision to vest exclusive appellate jurisdiction in the Commonwealth Court over matters involving the affairs of charitable organizations. Further, this Court has not developed a body of case law concerning internal church affairs and no discernible experience with such matters. We do not wish to risk rendering a decision that may conflict with the body of law existing in the Commonwealth Court. Hence, we consider it appropriate to transfer this appeal to the Court with the experience and skill set to handle the matter more proficiently and expertly. Id.; see also Dynamic Sports Fitness Corp. of America, Inc. v. Community YMCA of Eastern Delaware County, 751 A.2d 670 (Pa.Super. 2000).

Case transferred to Commonwealth Court. Jurisdiction relinquished.

Judgment Entered.


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