Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Appeals Court Refuses To Dismiss Suit Over Entitlement To Mosque Property

In United Islamic Society v. Masjed Abubakr Al-Seddiq, Inc., (MN App. Aug. 29, 2016), a Minnesota state appellate court affirmed a trial court's refusal to dismiss a suit over ownership of mosque property because "it is premature to decide that resolution of this case will necessarily involve improper government entanglement with religion."  The suit involves a dispute between two non-profit corporations over which one is is the rightful beneficiary of properties held in trust for the benefit of the Rochester, Minnesota Muslim community.  The court said in part:
A determination of whether this case can be resolved using neutral principles of law depends upon a close reading of UIS’s civil complaint and trust petition. In its civil complaint, UIS makes no mention of any religious doctrine and does not request relief for religious reasons. UIS instead requests a determination that it is the intended beneficiary of the trust based on the lease, warranty deeds, meeting minutes, and MAAS resolution....
Defendants argued that because the transfer of the properties to the North American Islamic Trust included a requirement that the properties are to be held in "waqf," the court will need to interpret the meaning of waqf, a religious term, to resolve the dispute.  The appellate court however disagreed, saying:
If the district court declares the declaration of trust valid, there appears to be no reason to interpret or analyze “waqf.” Similarly, if the district court declares the declaration of trust invalid ... a beneficiary determination likely depends on testimony and the documents in the record regarding the parties’ intent, which may include, among others, the warranty deeds that reference “Waqf (Islamic trust).” ...The limited information in the record about “waqf” simply does not suggest that a doctrinal analysis of “waqf” will be necessary to or dispositive of a beneficiary determination.
The court also rejected the argument that the case should be dismissed because of an arbitration clause in the declaration of trust, saying:
Because appellants did not invoke the arbitration clause in the declaration of trust until MAAS and NAIT’s summary-judgment motion, which was filed more than two years after the start of UIS’s civil action and after extensive litigation in both cases, we conclude that the district court’s finding that appellants waived their right to invoke the arbitration clause is not clearly erroneous.