MBC legal effort intensifies
Continuing battle for $250 million in MBC assets far from settled
By Bob Baysinger
March 30, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) attorneys will return to Cole County Circuit Court April 5 to ask Judge Tom Brown to reconsider the decisions he handed down March 11 in the Convention’s suit for declaratory judgment against five renegade agencies.
Brown ruled that neither churches nor the MBC Executive Board have standing to file suit against Missouri Baptist College. His ruling did not expressly include the four other agencies and did not close the door on the MBC’s right to file an amended suit or file a new petition that would simply continue the original case under a new case number..
The 20 pages of documents filed March 24 asks Brown to:
• Grant leave to file a second amended petition
• Vacate or modify the judgment of dismissal dated March 11; and
• Clarify the scope of the order and address certain issues and parties which were not expressly resolved in the order.
“The (amended) petition would cure the perceived deficiency in the plaintiffs’ pleadings as outlined in the March 11 order," MBC attorneys said in their filing. The amended petition would substitute messengers as plaintiffs to represent the MBC, since Brown ruled that messengers are members of the MBC according to its constitution.
The attorneys reminded Brown that he had not ruled on their motion to amend, which was filed on March 3.
“Under similar circumstances, the court of appeals has found that denial of leave (to amend) was a reversible error," the attorneys said in their motion. “If the court refuses to reconsider its prior judgment of dismissal and if the court intends for its order to include dismissal of all claims by the Executive Board as to all defendants, the plaintiffs seek this leave to amend, instead of dismissing and re-filing a new petition."
MBC attorneys told Brown the Convention may suffer substantial hardship and prejudice if he does not grant permission to file an amended petition.
They said the hardship would include “risk of multiple proceedings, inconsistent legal rulings and multiple appeals." They said the MBC also would run the risk of a statute of limitations deadline as to part of a claim against the Foundation, and the risk of clouding a lis pendens notice that was filed before the Windermere Conference Center mortgaged its facility on an $18.75 million construction loan. “A quarter of a billion dollars in ministry assets is at issue, affecting more than 600,000 Missouri Baptists in 2,000 local churches," the lawyers said. “These churches have, for generations, given sacrificially through the denomination, expecting that their gifts would build institutions accountable to the Missouri Baptist Convention.
“The churches and the Executive Board have told the court the way the association really works, in practice, throughout the year. The Court should not permit the defendants to avoid their promises by allowing defendants to create loopholes in the Convention’s constitution that do not mirror reality."
The motion told Brown that “he should be loathe" to allow the defendants to redefine the denomination’s constitution in a way to escape accountability for charter promises – especially when authorized representatives of the religious denomination have told the court that they are representative of the Convention.
Asking Brown to clarify his earlier order, the lawyers said they understood the ruling to “grant the college’s motion." The other four defendants are not expressly mentioned, they said.
“The order makes findings about the Executive Board standing based on language in the College charter that was not discussed at the abbreviated hearing on Feb. 26," the attorneys said. “Furthermore, the Executive Board has rights in other charters that were more expansive.
“Plaintiffs urge the court to reconsider this language before clarifying whether the March 11 order applied to the Executive Board’s standing as to the other defendants."