Decision Number 2


April 25, 1940

Appeal A. Lincoln Shute


An appeal was taken from a Bishop's rulings in an Annual Conference before Unification, which appeal passed to the Judicial Council under Paragraph 1624 of the 1939 Discipline. This appeal involved a request for rulings asking interpretations of prior pension laws of the Methodist Episcopal Church. As the record did not show that any vested rights of the appellant were affected, the appeal was dismissed, and the Bishop's rulings affirmed.

Statement of Facts

In the Rock River Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held October 5-10, 1937, Bishop Ernest G. Richardson, presiding, A. Lincoln Shute propounded certain questions numbered from one to seven inclusive, relating to pension legislation. The questions affected interests in which said A. Lincoln Shute and the Annual Conference were then interested. The ruling of the Bishop being unsatisfactory to A. Lincoln Shute, he appealed to the General Conference of The Methodist Episcopal Church, and as such appeal was undetermined at the time of the Uniting Conference, the appeal passed to the Judicial Council of The Methodist Church under the provisions of Paragraph 1624 of the Discipline of 1939.


We might well dismiss this appeal because the questions at issue have now become moot through the consolidation of the Churches. New laws governing the issues presented to and passed upon by Bishop Richardson have been enacted. No vested rights of the appellant have been affected and his rights for the future are governed by the enactments of the Consolidated Church. It cannot be useful to merely determine who was right, and who was wrong, as to the rulings in question in the 1937 Annual Conference.

We have felt, however, that it might be better to indicate the questions asked and the answers given, or ruling made, by the Bishop with an occasional short comment by this tribunal.

The substance of the first question asked by A. Lincoln Shute was:

"Is not Paragraph 959, Section 1, of the Discipline of 1936, retroactive and therefore unconstitutional?"

The Bishop answered:

"It is retroactive but is not therefore unconstitutional."

We approve the ruling made by the Bishop as to that question. Many laws are retroactive in effect but not necessarily unconstitutional. Under the Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Annual Conference was the sole judge of the annuity to be paid to a retired minister belonging to such Conference (Paragraphs 957, 958, 1936 Discipline), hence no vested right to a certain amount could arise, and the Paragraph 959, Section 1, did not violate the terms of the Constitution of that Church.

The second question, in substance, was:

"Does the wiping out of the date line in connection with new legislation touching retroactive divided annuity responsibility under Paragraph 959, Section 1, of the 1936 Discipline, render the Paragraph unconstitutional?"

The Bishop answered:

"Any law passed by the General Conference is constitutional. Neither a Bishop nor all of them, nor any person or group, has the right to declare a General Conference act unconstitutional in the interim between General Conferences."

This ruling was made in 1937 and related to the 1936 Discipline. If the language quoted in the first sentence of the Bishop's answer is all he said, then we hold he was in error. Not all laws passed by the General Conference are constitutional. He undoubtedly meant that any law passed by a General Conference should be regarded as being constitutional until declared to be unconstitutional by the proper authority, which was then the General Conference. In any event the answer does not injuriously affect any matter in issue and is not reversible error. The second sentence of the answer is correct and we approve it.

The third question was:

"We ask a ruling as to what laws are included, and what laws are excluded in the expression 'all questions of law' found in the Discipline of 1936, Par. 674, See. 11, and particularly as to whether this section puts the responsibility upon the presiding Bishop to decide the constitutionality of any law involved in proceedings pending in an Annual Conference, subject to appeal to the General Conference."

The Bishop answered:

"All questions of law means what it says, but he must rule as the law is, regardless of his personal opinion."

We find no error in the answer of the Bishop, although he might well have declined to answer a question covering so wide a scope and presenting no concrete case or situation.

The fifth question asked was:

1. "Is it lawful for the Board of Pensions and Relief to fix an 'annuity rate' for each Annual Conference, when the Discipline says explicitly in Paragraph 951, Section 3, that among the duties and powers of Stewards is the 'determination of annuity rate' and in Paragraph 947, Section 3, 'The annuity rate shall be determined by the United Session, without restriction'?"

The Bishop answered:

"The Board of Pensions has been given the right to announce to each Conference the minimum annuity rate it should use."

There is no error in this answer. It was a very careful exposition as to the suggested minimum rate, and in no wise abridged the rights of the Annual Conference.

The sixth question asked was:

"Referring to Paragraph 947, Section 3, in the Discipline of 1936, and Paragraph 959, Section 2 (the last sentence), is it lawful for the 'clearing house' to calculate such liabilities quadrennially, when the annuity rate must be dependent on these fluctuating liabilities from year to year, and (3) when the Discipline says that the 'annuity rate' shall be determined 'annually'?"

The Bishop answered:

"The minimum rate will be in effect. The Conference can fix a larger rate any time its receipts justify it."

We find no error in that ruling.

The appeal as to questions four and seven was withdrawn.

Having therefore examined each ruling presented to us, we affirm the rulings of Bishop Richardson, except as to the first sentence of the answer to the second question as above stated, and the appeal is dismissed.

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