Decision Number 29
Powers of Trustees, Fourth Street First Methodist Church, Wheeling, W. Va.
The Board of Trustees of a local church is not such a body as would have the right to appeal directly to the Judicial Council, so that it may petition for a Declaratory Decision under the provisions of Paragraph 914, Discipline 1944; but the questions of law involved in any such request for a Declaratory Decision may be acted upon by the Quarterly Conference under Paragraph 362, subsection 14, and may thus eventually become subject to review by the Judicial Council.
Statement of Facts
The Board of Trustees of Fourth Street First Methodist Church of Wheeling, W. Va., filed with the Judicial Council the following petition: "Your petitioner respectfully represents that it is the duly elected Board of Trustees of Fourth Street First Methodist Church of Wheeling, W. Va.
"Your petitioner shows that under the Will of the late Mary M. Alderman, there was bequeathed to Fourth Street Methodist Episcopal Church (now Fourth Street First Methodist Church of Wheeling), the residue of the estate of said Mary M. Alderman pursuant to Item 20 of said will, reading as follows:
"I hereby give and bequeath all the residue and remainder of my estate, if any, unto the Trustees of the Fourth Street Methodist Episcopal Church, now located on Chapline Street, Wheeling, West Va.'
"Petitioner further represents that the executor under said will is now holding for delivery to your petitioner for the benefit of said Church certain personal property, pursuant to the terms of said will.
"Your petitioner further represents that it is of the opinion that the best interests of the church will be served if the properties received under said will and any other gifts, or bequests hereafter received, are placed in trust with a corporate Trustee having either sole authority or joint authority with the Board of Trustees of the church to manage, invest and reinvest the principal and income of the fund received by reason of said bequest, and by reason of any other similar gift, devise or bequest, all for the benefit of the church.
"Your petitioner further shows that one of its members has raised the question as to the power of the petitioner under Paragraph 775 of the Discipline of The Methodist Church to transfer to a Trustee, property received by your petitioner under said will or by reason of any other gift or bequest, and providing by a trust instrument for the sole management by said Trustee or by the joint management of said Trustee and the Board of Trustees of the church as it may be constituted from time to time, and the terms and conditions under which said property so received shall be managed even though any such trust instrument shall contain provisions that such management shall be for the sole benefit of the church.
"Petitioner, therefore, prays for a ruling under the Declaratory Decisions Act adopted by the General Conference of 1944 as to its power to establish a trust whereunder it would convey to a corporate Trustee the bequest received under aforementioned will and providing for the management of the properties so conveyed to said Trustee and any other properties which it might later receive under any future gifts or bequests, such management to be solely by such Trustee or jointly by such Trustee and the Board of Trustees of the church as it may be constituted from time to time, such trust containing such other terms as are usual and appropriate, and providing further that the use of the income and principal of any and au of such property shall at all times be for the sole benefit of the church."
The Discipline of 1944, Paragraph 914, provides as follows:
"Par. 914. When the General Conference shall have passed any act or legislation that appears to be subject to more than one interpretation, or when any Paragraph or Paragraphs of the Discipline seem to be of doubtful meaning or application, any authority in the church affected thereby that would have the right to appeal thereon to the Judicial Council under the law of the Church from any action of any Conference, ruling of a Bishop, or of any Board, Commission, or body of the Church, may petition the Judicial Council for a ruling in the nature of a Declaratory Decision as to the meaning, application, and effect of such act, legislation, or Paragraph or Paragraphs of the Discipline; and the Decision of the Judicial Council thereon shall be as binding and effectual as a Decision on Appeal under the law relating to appeals to the Judicial Council.
"But only those who could appeal from an action under such act, legislation, or laws can ask for such Declaratory Decision by the Judicial Council. Moot and hypothetical questions shall not be decided, but only those where some action is desired and some doubt or question as to the meaning or application of the act, legislation, action, or ruling is apparent. The Judicial Council shall determine from the facts in connection with each such petition whether or not it has jurisdiction to hear and determine the same."
Under the Declaratory Decision Act of 1944, the Judicial Council may not assume jurisdiction, unless jurisdiction has been clearly vested in the Council. To this extent the Declaratory Decision Act, in the same manner as the Declaratory Judgment Acts of the State Legislatures, should be strictly construed. In this case jurisdiction is vested in the Judicial Council only when the petition arises from any authority in the Church that would have the right of appeal to the Judicial Council directly.
Accordingly we are constrained to hold that the Board of Trustees of a local church is not such a body which would have the right of the appeal directly to the Judicial Council under any present law of the Church.
It may be stated that this does not mean that there is no remedy in a case of this character. The Board of Trustees of every local church is subject to the direction of the Quarterly Conference. Paragraph 362, subsection 14, makes it the duty of the District Superintendent "To decide all questions of law which may arise in the business of the Quarterly Conference, subject to an appeal to the President of the next Annual Conference." Thus a procedure is provided whereby any such question can be acted upon by the presiding Bishop of the Annual Conference, whose ruling thereon becomes subject to review by the Judicial Council.
For the reasons above stated, therefore, the Judicial Council holds that it does not now have jurisdiction to make the Declaratory Decision prayed for by the said petition.