Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Congregants of Buddhist Temple Have Standing to Sue in Factional Dispute

 In Bui v. Loc Hoang Bach, (CA App., Dec. 16, 2022), a California state appellate court, reversing the trial court, held that congregants of a Vietnamese Buddhist Temple have standing to sue two directors who took over control of the Temple after the death of its long-time Abbot. The two directors are attempting to force out the deceased Abbot's nephew who appellants claim was chosen by the deceased Abbot to be the new leader of the Temple. The court held that because the Temple's bylaws did not provide for members, plaintiffs cannot rely on the Nonprofit Religious Corporation Law provision that allows members to sue. The court went on to conclude, however:

There are two other causes of action in the complaint, neither of which is dependent on standing under the code. The second cause of action for accounting requires only that the plaintiff has a relationship with the defendant which requires an accounting.... This relationship need not be fiduciary in nature....  As congregants who have paid dues and invested time and energy in the temple, the Buis – like any other congregant – are arguably entitled to an accounting of the Bachs’ use of temple monies.

As for declaratory and injunctive relief, the Buis seek a judicial determination of the parties’ respective rights and obligations. At minimum, this would require a determination of who is legitimately on the board of directors at present. More specifically, the Buis seek to block the eviction of Cao. Given that Cao has been confirmed as the head abbot at the temple, and was the desired successor to Abbot Thanh, his eviction would almost certainly impact worship at the temple, which consequently impacts the religious freedom of congregants. They have a beneficial interest in these affairs.