Friday, April 26, 2013

Church Members May Challenge Bylaws That Disenfranchised Them

In Congregation of H.O.P.E.-L.I.F.E. Noah's Ark Church, Inc. v. Ramirez, (NY County Sup. Ct., April 23, 2013), a New York state trial court refused to dismiss a suit challenging the election of Richard Ramirez as H.O.P.E.-L.I.F.E.'s pastor.  Plaintiffs alleged that after the death of the church's founder in 2007, Ramirez and his assistant pastor orchestrated Ramirez's appointment as pastor to control the church and the real estate that it owns. Plaintiffs claim that defendants disenfranchised exiting church members and created new bylaws to prevent future challenges to Ramirez. The suit, alleging fraud and negligent misrepresentation, seeks to have the bylaws declared null and void.  The court rejected the argument that plaintiffs are seeking to have a religious issue resolved by a secular court. Allegations claim only violations of the New York Religious Corporation Law. The court also held that while plaintiff "Congregation" is not a formal entity, but merely the original members of the church, they may still sue by amending the caption of the lawsuit to reflect the name of each individual member.