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TRUSTEES FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH NEW VILLAGE v. AMERICAN HOME MISSIONARY SOCIETY ET AL. (04/25/69)
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, SPECIAL TERM, SUFFOLK COUNTY
1969.NY.41345 <http://www.versuslaw.com>; 300 N.Y.S.2d 76; 59 Misc. 2d 717
April 25, 1969
TRUSTEES OF FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH IN NEW VILLAGE, PLAINTIFF,v.AMERICAN HOME MISSIONARY SOCIETY ET AL., DEFENDANTS
John W. Helfrich for plaintiff.
Louis J. Lefkowitz, Attorney-General, defendant in person.
Loren T. Wood for Congregational Home Missionary Society, defendant.
William R. Geiler, J.
Plaintiff, a New York religious corporation, brings this action pursuant to section 1955 of the Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law to extinguish certain restrictions contained in two deeds which transferred approximately one-half acre of land to the plaintiff church in the Incorporated Village of Lake Grove, Suffolk County.
The matter herein has been submitted to the court for decision on an agreed statement of facts.
The plaintiff church was formed in 1815 and a sanctuary was erected in 1817 on Middle Country Road in the Incorporated Village of Lake Grove. On March 5, 1845 the church was incorporated as "The Trustees of the First Congregational Church in New Village".
The plaintiff, from the time of its incorporation, operated as a Congregational Church and maintained a membership in the Suffolk Society of Congregational Christian Churches and Ministers. In 1949, the plaintiff, due to a dispute, resigned from the Suffolk Society of Congregational Christian Churches and Ministers. Since 1949 the church has operated as an independent congregation and its membership includes persons of various Protestant denominations.
The real property, which is the subject matter of this litigation, consists of approximately one-half acre located on the westerly side of Hawkins Avenue, approximately 237 feet south of the intersection of Hawkins Avenue and Middle Country Road in Lake Grove, New York. The plaintiff obtained this property by means of two separate conveyances. The first conveyance was made in 1884 and the second conveyance was made in 1886. Each deed contained the provision that the property was "to be used for the benefit of the New Village Orthodox Congregational Church while that church shall continue to exist, but, should the aforesaid church become extinct the aforesaid property shall be appropriated to the use of The American Home Missionary Society."
A parsonage has been maintained on the property since 1886.
In 1963 the plaintiff erected a new church building at Elliott Avenue and Wildwood Road in Lake Grove. The plaintiff, due to the change of the location of the church itself and a change in the neighborhood of the parsonage, wishes to construct a new parsonage at the new church site. It therefore seeks to sell the subject property, and has entered into a contract to do so for the sum of $22,000 subject to its obtaining a removal of the conditional limitations contained in the two deeds dated 1884 and 1886.
What is the meaning of the restriction contained in the deeds dated 1884 and 1886?
The language is clear and unambiguous. The property conveyed was to be used for the benefit of the plaintiff church during its existence. The ownership of the property would revert to the defendant only if the plaintiff church became extinct.
No one can seriously contend that the plaintiff church has become extinct. The fact that the church has physically moved from its old location or thrown its doors open to people of various Protestant persuasions is not synonymous with extinction. The mere bringing of this proceeding is evidence enough that the plaintiff church is not extinct, but is pulsating strongly.
The chance of extinction occurring is less probable today than when the restriction was inserted into the deeds approximately 85 years ago. The congregation was small and in its infancy in 1884 and there was a good possibility of extinction. Today the plaintiff church is admittedly vibrant, flourishing and expanding.
Thus, the condition subsequent to reversion has never occurred nor does there seem any ...