Monday, May 25, 2015

Court Orders Another Election For Small Church's Board

In Rock Church, Inc. v. Venigalla, (NY York Co. Sup. Ct., May 14, 2015), a New York state trial court rejected a challenge to its jurisdiction over a disputed election in a small church whose some 30 members were split over whether to fire its pastor after his decision to reduce the number of Sunday services from two to one. The court had previously ordered that a meeting be held to elect a full Board.  This suit challenges the validity of that election in which the faction opposing the pastor was voted into office after a third vote at which the pastor's supporters claim numerous non-members voted. The court said in part:
If this matter required the a weighing of an individual's fitness for membership in the Church, and a decision as to whether or not that individual met the criteria for membership, including investigation into the depth of his or her religious convictions, it would be clear that the matter would be beyond this court's subject matter jurisdiction. But, the matter actually turns on a matter of contract. In the present matter, through its by-laws, the Church's contract as to how the Church will conduct its business, the Church has already decided how members are to be determined. Under the Church's by-laws, it is up to the pastor, and only the pastor, to determine who is to be a member of the Church....
Since Pastor Impaglia ... attests that the third vote taken on October 5, 2014, was taken largely among nonmembers, who cannot vote for trustees, it follows that the final vote taken on October 5, 2014, which put respondents in power, was illegal under the Church's By-Laws, and is void. As said, the matter is one of pure contract interpretation, and therefore involves only the application by this court of a "neutral principle of law."
The court held that another vote held the same day purporting to elect the pastor's supporters was also void, and ordered the church to hold another special meeting.