Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Litigation - the Dioceses in New York

Episcopal Dioceses in New York enjoy the benefit of a special state statute that enacts the provisions of the Dennis Canon into State law. Section 42-a of the New York Religious Corporations Code provides (I have added the italics):

§ 42-a. Additional powers of the corporate trustees and vestry.
Notwithstanding and in addition to the provisions of section five of this chapter, and subject always to the trust in which all real and personal property is held for the Protestant Episcopal Church and the Diocese thereof in which the parish, mission or congregation is located,the vestry or trustees of any incorporated Protestant Episcopal parish or church, the trustees of every incorporated governing body of the Protestant Episcopal Church and each diocese are authorized to administer the temporalities and property, real and personal, belonging to the corporation, for the support and maintenance of the corporation and, provided it is in accordance with the discipline, rules and usages of the Protestant Episcopal Church and with the provisions of law relating thereto, for the support and maintenance of other religious, charitable, benevolent or educational objects whether or not conducted by the corporation or in connection with it or with the Protestant Episcopal Church.

Arguably, this statute violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, by giving a statutory preference to trusts created by action of the legislative body of a national church without having to comply with the local Statute of Frauds. However, no successful challenge to it has yet been mounted in the New York courts. Instead, the Diocese of Rochester recently scored a victory with the Dennis Canon in New York's highest court, as described in this post:

That case in turn has had ramifications for the Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, in the Diocese of Central New York, as I describe in these two posts:

In the latter post, I opined that there would be an appeal, no matter which side won. I was wrong---the Church lost the motion for summary judgment, based on the court's upholding of a Dennis Canon trust on all its property (with the help of the New York statute quoted above), but it is not going to appeal the decision. Once again, the Episcopal Church (USA) succeeds in forcing a congregation to find a new place to worship, and to leave behind an empty building which stands in mute testimony to the folly of its litigation policy.

And now the same judge has rendered a further decision which goes to the extreme length of finding that the Church of the Good Shepherd "no longer exists" for purposes of a parishioner's bequest to it:

And as a finis to this sad story, be sure to read what use the Diocese of Central New York ended up making of the church property it was so eager to seize:

Meanwhile, in the Diocese of Long Island, the Diocese benefited from the court's application of the Dennis Canon to prevail in a lawsuit brought against it and ECUSA by St. James Parish in Elmhurst to quiet title to the latter's property. (St. James was the first Anglican church in Elmhurst [formerly "Newtown"], chartered by King George in 1761, and had for one of its earliest rectors the Rev. Dr. Samuel Seabury, who was later elected and consecrated in Scotland as the first Episcopal bishop in America after the Revolutionary War.) The Parish has since had to vacate its historic property, and the Diocese brought in a priest-in-charge to try to build back the congregation and manage the historic campus. But the Diocese has now seen fit to pursue the Parish's attorneys to recover the amounts they received from the Parish in payment of their legal fees. (A copy of the lawsuit as filed may be downloaded here.) I analyze the claims and their probabilities of failure in the following post:

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