At 10:30 the Court will hear the case of Presbytery of St. Andrew, Presbyterian Church v. First Presbyterian Church PCUSA of Starkville.
This is a dispute between a local church, The First Presbyterian Church PCUSA of Starkville, and the national denomination Presbytery of St Andrew, over ownership of the land used by First Pres of Starkville in Starkville. In 1983, two presbyterian denominations joined to form “the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America” (“PCUSA”). The PCUSA has a provision that purports to declare that property of the individual congregations is held in trust for the use and benefit of the PCUSA (warning – this is the extremely simplified version; the briefs include lots of historical information for anybody into that sort of thing). Eventually, First Pres of Starkville filed suit to have the court declare that the Church’s property was not subject to a trust in favor of the PCUSA. The trial court granted the relief requested and the national denomination appealed.
First Pres. of Starkville argues:
The Presbytery claims that all of FPC Starkville’s property is subject to an absolute trust in favor of the PCUSA. Using the neutral principles analysis adopted by the Mississippi Supreme Court, the Presbytery’s denominational trust claim is only valid if it passes muster under Mississippi’s generally applicable trust and property law. In this case, the Presbytery’s trust claim does not meet the requirements of any of the three trust types recognized in Mississippi— the express trust, the resulting trust, or the constructive trust.
St Andrew’s argues:
the lower court committed a clear error of law by failing to consider or apply this Court’s recent decision in Shirley v. Christian Episcopal Methodist Church, wherein a denominational trust interest in the property of its member congregation was upheld due to the congregation’s well-documented and undeniable allegiance to it. Additionally, the lower court misapplied the neutral principles of law standard when determining that no express trust existed, as its opinion ignores the United States Supreme Court’s pronouncement in Jones v. Wolf that a denomination need only satisfy a minimal burden to establish a trust over the property of its member congregations. The lower court’s judgment also violates Appellant’s First Amendment rights, as the Chancellor permanently enjoined Appellant’s exercise of its ecclesiastical jurisdiction over its members if such exercise resulted from or was related to the church property issue before the Chancellor
St Andrew’s Brief
First Presbyterian Church of Starkville’s brief
St Andrew’s reply brief
Watch the argument here.