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Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church v. Washington Presbytery of Pennsylvania

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

April 30, 2014

Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church
v.
Washington Presbytery of Pennsylvania and Reverend L. Rus Howard and Robert J. Elmes, Richard L. St. Clair, Mary G. St. Clair, Harry R. Broberg, Ona D. Broberg, Janet DeGrange, Ronald A. DeGrange, John M. McMurray, Claire
v.
Agarwal, Marian H. Jochem, Ramarkrishna Agarwal, Clark L. Gable, Sue Smith, Carol Gable, Audrey Vanderaar, William D. Harmon, Judy Mayer, George E. Mayer, Ph.D., Jan Fickter, Betty N. Monaghan, Edward L. Miller, Ruth Lewis, James L. Simpson, Kevin L. Scrivo, Ardeth D. Simpson, William B. Philips, Christine Scrivo, Vickie Philips, W. Bennett Lewis, Jill A. Brower, Louise H. Carmichael, Mary Anne Harmon, J.W. Carmichael, Jackson Brower, James P. Leslie, Jr., Rose Marie Leslie, Rebecca Harmon Schreiber, William Shades, Keith C. Shader, Cathy Shader, Albert C. Broberg, Karen C. Broberg, together constituting the

Argued April 17, 2013

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Appealed from No. 2007-2941 and 2008-7967. Common Pleas Court of the County of Washington. Pozonsky, J.

Stephen D. Marriner, Jr., Washington, for appellant Washington Presbytery of Pennsylvania.

Andrea Geraghty and Frank Kosir, Jr., Pittsburgh, for appellee Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church.

Marshall J. Tindall, Pittsburgh, for appellees Vicki Philips, James L. Simpson, Mary G. St. Clair, Harry R. Broberg, Ona D. Broberg, Janet DeGrange, Ronald A. DeGrange, John M. McMurray, Claire V. Agarwal, Marian H. Jochem, Ramakrishna Agarwal, Clark L. Gable, Sue Smith, William D. Harmon, Judy Mayer, George E. Mayer, Jan Fickter, Betty N. Monaghan, Edward L. Miller, Ruth Lewis, Kevin L. Scrivo, Ardeth D. Simpson, William B. Philips, Christine Scrivo, W. Bennett Lewis, Jill A. Brower, Louise H. Carmichael, Mary Anne Harmon, J.W. Carmichael, Jackson Brower, James P. Leslie, Jr., Rose Marie Leslie, Rebecca Harmon Schreiber, William Shades, Keith C. Shader, Cathy Shader, Albert C. Broberg, Karen C. Broberg, Richard L. St. Clair and Audrey Vanderaar.

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge, HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE RENÉ E COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge. OPINION BY PRESIDENT JUDGE PELLEGRINI.[1] CONCURRING/DISSENTING OPINION BY JUDGE McCULLOUGH. Judges Leadbetter and Leavitt join in this concurring/dissenting opinion.

OPINION

Page 100

DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge[1]

Page 101

I. INTRODUCTION

These consolidated cases involve a dispute over the control of a non-profit corporation and church property, including the church building, land and personal property. Internecine battles of this kind have existed for hundreds of years in our jurisprudence. See Baker v. Fales, 16 Mass. 488 (1820) (resolving the Dedham Church property dispute). Such disputes are not unique in the Commonwealth and always entail much emotion and often sadness among the competing factions. The dispute here is between the majority of the members (" Majority" ) of the non-profit corporation named Peters Creek United Presbyterian Church (" Peters Creek Church" ) and a minority faction of the members of Peters Creek Church (" Minority" ) and the Washington Presbytery of Pennsylvania (" Washington Presbytery" ), which is a presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (" PCUSA" ). Over 40 members of the Minority are named individually as appellants.

On November 4, 2007, the Majority voted to disaffiliate Peters Creek Church from the Washington Presbytery and the PCUSA, to affiliate with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (" EPC" ), and to amend the corporate bylaws to replace all references to the PCUSA Constitution with references to the EPC Constitution. Before the corporation's vote, the Majority had filed, on May 9, 2007, an action against the Washington Presbytery in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas (" trial court" ) to quiet title to real property and for declaratory judgment regarding personal property (Civil Action No. 2007-2941). The Majority also sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the Washington Presbytery from taking over the operation of the local congregation. The trial court entered the injunction, but it was later dissolved by agreement of the parties after their attempts at reconciliation had failed. The Washington Presbytery answered and brought counterclaims, seeking control of the property and alleging improper corporate acts. On August 29, 2008, the Minority filed a separate shareholder derivative action against the Majority (Civil Action No. 2008-7967). The two actions were later consolidated.[2]

The Washington Presbytery and the Minority (collectively, " Appellants" ) appeal from two orders of the trial court. In the first order, entered October 1, 2009, in case No. 2007-2941, the trial court resolved cross-motions for summary judgment regarding, inter alia, control of the property, ruling that Peters Creek Church did not hold its property in trust for the Washington Presbytery or the PCUSA. (Appeal docketed at No. 1044 C.D. 2011). In the second order, entered March 31, 2010, in case No. 2008-7967, the trial court resolved cross-motions for summary judgment regarding, inter alia, control of the non-profit corporation, ruling that the November 4, 2007 vote to ...


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