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Appeals Court Rules Against Mo. Convention

An appeals court ruled against the Missouri Baptist Convention Tuesday in the MBC’s six-year legal battle against five state ministry organizations.

The Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals released a 3-0 decision in favor of Windermere Baptist Conference Center. The decision affirmed the March 2008 circuit court ruling in favor of Windermere. Judge James Welch wrote the Feb. 3 appeals court ruling, with Judges Thomas Newton and Joseph Dandurand concurring.

We are pleased, after a thorough analysis of the merits of the case, the appeals court has affirmed the circuit court’s decision in favor of Windermere, stated Windermere President/CEO Dan Bench in a press release. The appeals decision ”like the previous circuit court decision ”is well-documented and clearly states the facts and the law are on Windermere’s side. Four judges have now examined the merits of the case and all four have reached the conclusion Windermere and its board acted lawfully as we sought to best fulfill Windermere’s important mission.

In August 2002, the MBC filed its lawsuit against Windermere, Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University, The Baptist Home, and Word&Way. Circuit court judge Thomas Brown dismissed the case in March 2004, claiming that the MBC lacked the legal standing to sue. The appeals court overturned that ruling in May 2005, although two of the three judges on that case had close ties to the MBC. The case was sent back to the circuit court level until it was dismissed on the merits of the case in March 2008 by Judge Richard Callahan.

The latest appeals court decision outlined the judges’ disagreements with the arguments raised in the MBC’s appeal and defended the circuit court decision. The appeals court decision explained that the judges consider appeals in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered in order to afford that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences. However, even with that perspective granted to the MBC, the judges all disagreed with the MBC’s claims.

The circuit court, therefore, did not err in granting Windermere’s motion for summary judgment on the Convention’s claims for declaratory judgment, injunction, rescission and restitution, and in dismissing the Convention’s claim for conspiracy, the appeals court decision concludes. We affirm the circuit court’s judgment.

The decision says the MBC attempted to make a convoluted and fastidious distinction instead of relying on the plain and ordinary meaning of Windermere’s articles of incorporation, which the decision calls clear and unambiguous in declaring that there are no corporate members of Windermere. The decision also notes that the judges find it disingenuous for the Convention to claim that it is a member of Windermere since MBC messengers ratified the articles of corporation.

In addition to ruling against the MBC’s claims of corporate membership and contractual rights, the appeals court also affirmed the circuit court ruling dismissal of the MBC’s claims of a conspiracy. The court stated that since no unlawful act occurred, there could not be a civil conspiracy case. Additionally, it said the MBC had not proven its conspiracy claim.

The Convention’s allegations of so-called actions, agreements, and conspiracy, however, are vague and insufficient, the decision explains. Such allegations must be supported by facts.

The MBC had argued that the Shorter College case in Georgia provided precedence for the MBC’s case against Windermere. The appeals court decision, however, argued that the two cases are factually distinguishable. In 2003, trustees of Shorter College voted to separate from the Georgia Baptist Convention. The legal battle ended in 2005 with the GBC regaining control of the school.

The Missouri appeals court decision also notes that the MBC misrepresented the claims of both Callahan’s circuit court decision and the previous appeals court decision on the issue of legal standing.

We hope Missouri Baptists will now be able to put this sad conflict behind us, Bench added in Windermere’s statement. We pray no additional money, energy, or time will be wasted by further litigation efforts. Windermere recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and just completed its best year ever. Lives are being forever changed because of the life-changing ministry of Windermere and we welcome all Missouri Baptists to join with us.