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Trustees of Gallilee Pentecostal Church, Inc. v. Williams

September 22, 2009

TRUSTEES OF GALLILEE PENTECOSTAL CHURCH, INC., APPELLANT,
v.
FRANCES J. WILLIAMS, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



In an action, inter alia, for a judgment declaring, among other things, that certain persons are the trustees and members of Gallilee Pentecostal Church, Inc., and that a certain meeting held on August 29, 2006, was a nullity, the plaintiff appeals from (1) a decision of the Supreme Court, Dutchess County (Brands, J.), dated November 26, 2007, made after a non-jury trial, and (2) a judgment of the same court entered January 11, 2008, which, upon the decision, is in favor of the defendants and against it dismissing the complaint.

Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.

MARK C. DILLON, J.P., ANITA R. FLORIO, RUTH C. BALKIN and LEONARD B. AUSTIN, JJ.

(Index No. 6792/06)

DECISION & ORDER

ORDERED that the appeal from the decision is dismissed, as no appeal lies from a decision (see Schicchi v Green Constr. Corp., 100 AD2d 509); and it is further,

ORDERED that the judgment is modified, on the law and the facts, (1) by deleting the provision thereof dismissing so much of the complaint as sought a judgment declaring that the meeting held on August 29, 2006, was a nullity, and substituting therefor a provision declaring that the meeting held on August 29, 2006, was a nullity, (2) by deleting the provision thereof dismissing so much of the complaint as sought a judgment declaring that certain persons are the trustees and members of Gallilee Pentecostal Church, Inc., and substituting therefor a provision declaring that Henderson Murphy and Lottie Carey are trustees of Gallilee Pentecostal Church, Inc., and (3) by adding a provision thereto enjoining the defendants from exercising any authority or control over the temporalities and property of Gallilee Pentecostal Church, Inc.; as so modified, the judgment is affirmed insofar as appealed from; and it is further,

ORDERED that one bill of costs is awarded to the plaintiff.

The individuals involved in this dispute are associated with the Gallilee Pentecostal Church, Inc. (hereinafter the Church), located in Poughkeepsie, New York, which was incorporated under article 8 of the Religious Corporations Law in 1983. The Church became embroiled in turmoil that has continued throughout the years. While the defendant Frances J. Williams asserts that she has always been pastor of the Church, other members of the Church, including those who brought this action as the plaintiff, Trustees of Gallilee Pentecostal Church, Inc. (hereinafter the Trustees), claim that she has never been voted in by the Church members as pastor, and assert that, in fact, the membership has voted at least twice to declare that she is not the pastor of the Church.

When the Church incorporated, six people, including Henderson Murphy and Lottie Carey, two of the three alleged Trustees, were named as trustees of the Church. Although the certificate of incorporation and the Religious Corporations Law call for staggered annual elections of trustees (see Religious Corporations Law §§ 161, 163), it is undisputed that no elections were held subsequent to the meeting for incorporation until the August 29, 2006, meeting which is in dispute. In addition, four of the six original trustees have died.

On August 15, 2006, at the request of Williams, the defendant Dena Bellamy sent an "interoffice memo" to 30 people whom Williams named as members of the Church. The memo stated that a meeting would be held on August 29, 2006, in the presence of a mediator, in order for the members to "voice their opinions and be heard," to "[set] up offices," and to hold an election for those offices. The memo was labeled "[c]onfidential." Bellamy testified at trial that she did not consult the secretary of the Church for a list of members, and no notice of the meeting was read from the pulpit or posted on the Church door.

Some of the members of the Church, including the Trustees, refused to recognize Williams's authority to call the meeting, and did not attend. Seventeen alleged members attended the meeting, and purported to elect Williams as pastor of the Church and as a trustee, as well as the defendant Barbara Williams-Mahmood as another trustee.

The Trustees thereafter commenced this action seeking: (1) a judgment declaring that certain persons are the trustees and members of the Church, and that the August 29, 2006, meeting was a nullity because it was not properly noticed and the majority of the people voting thereat were not members of the Church; (2) a permanent injunction barring the defendants from exercising any authority or control over the Church's property and affairs; and (3) an accounting of any and all funds received by the Church during the relevant period. After a non-jury trial, the Supreme Court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to determine the matters raised in the complaint and, therefore, dismissed the complaint. We modify.

Upon review of a determination rendered after a non-jury trial, this Court's authority "is as broad as that of the trial Court," and this Court may "render the judgment it finds warranted by the facts, taking into account in a close case the fact that the trial judge had the advantage of seeing the witnesses'" (Northern Westchester Professional Park Assoc. v Town of Bedford, 60 NY2d 492, 499, quoting York ...


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