SPRINGFIELD (BP) – The Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) has won a crucial ruling from the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, in its effort to recover the Windermere Baptist Conference Center in Camden County.
In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge appeals panel held that the trial judge in May 2009 improperly dismissed the convention’s petition to recover title to 1,300 acres of Windermere real estate on the Lake of the Ozarks.
“We agree with the position asserted by the convention,” said Judge Don Burrell, who authored the opinion, joined by Judges Bates and Rahmeyer. Oral argument was heard by the Springfield court on Jan. 15, with the opinion issued on April 30.
“It is welcome news that MBC’s effort to recover its beloved Windermere is back on track in Camden County,” said Michael Whitehead, legal counsel for the Missouri convention. “Sadly, both MBC and Windermere have incurred unnecessary legal fees because of this year-long detour to the court of appeals.”
Windermere was one of five MBC subsidiary corporations which broke from the convention in 2000-01 by changing their charters to create self-perpetuating trustee boards. The other breakaway entities are Missouri Baptist University, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, The Baptist Home retirement center and the Word&Way newsjournal. Convention court action continues toward recovering all but the Word&Way.
Whitehead said he hopes the convention and Windermere will now get to the merits of the case to get a resolution of all the claims instead of the conference center engaging in procedural delay tactics.
The trial court had dismissed the portion of the convention’s petition against Windermere corporation and several lenders and developers who had acquired a legal interest in the real estate since 2001. The dismissal meant that Windermere would no longer be a party to the case, and thus the MBC’s opportunity to recover the land through the court would be gone. The latest court of appeals decision put Windermere back in the case and revived the opportunity for the MBC to seek return of the land.
Defense counsel will have 15 days to decide whether to seek reconsideration of the decision or appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. After the appeals decision is final, the Camden County court will again have jurisdiction over claims regarding the Windermere land. MBC attorneys will continue to prepare for trial on these and other claims still in the case.
Also still pending in the Camden County court is the counterclaim by companies led by William Jester against the convention. Jester, a Springfield developer, is seeking $15 million plus punitive damages against the MBC on claims that include defamation and malicious prosecution. He asserts that the convention included his companies in the Camden County lawsuit without good cause and for the purpose of harming his development business.
In addition, the Camden County case includes MBC claims against Jim Hill, former executive director of the Missouri convention. Those claims allege fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty.