Decision Number 189
Request of the Virginia Annual Conference For Declaratory Decision As to the Right of Conference Trustees to Lend Money
The Judicial Council will not render a declaratory decision on a moot or academic question raised after the fact or action.
Statement of Facts
The Board of Trustees of the Virginia Annual Conference made a loan of $10,000 from undesignated funds in its possession to a group of Virginia ministers and laymen organized as "Agents of Camp Kewanzee." The loan made was used as a down payment on a 500 acre tract of land known as Camp Kewanzee to be held by the Agents for possible future action by the Virginia Annual Conference. This action was reported in the Report of the Board of Trustees to the 1959 Virginia Annual Conference and was "received as information." (page 67 Virginia Conference Journal 1959) No question was raised in the Annual Conference as to the action of the Board of Trustees in making the loan. On the basis of this report the Conference adopted a resolution requesting the Conference Board of Education "to make a detailed study of Camp Kewanzee as to its value and use to the Methodists of our Conference." (page 68 Virginia Conference Journal 1959)
The 1960 Virginia Annual Conference received a full report from its Camp Kewanzee Study Committee as to its possible use, and adopted a resolution "that the Camp Kewanzee property be purchased by the Virginia Annual Conference." Thereafter a request for ruling of the presiding Bishop was made on Paragraph 711 (2) of the Discipline . . . "does this Paragraph grant Conference Trustees the right to lend money without direction of the Annual Conference?" Presiding Bishop Garber did not make a ruling, but obtained conference approval to request a declaratory decision on the question from the Judicial Council.
Jurisdiction is accepted on the petition of the Virginia Annual Conference under the 1960 Discipline, Paragraph 914 (8).
Analysis and Rationale
The question presented is: Does Par. 711 (2) grant to Conference Trustees the right to lend money without the direction of the Annual Conference? We have in Decision 160 (October 17, 1959) held that Conference Board of Trustees acts for and under direction of the Annual Conference. Under Paragraph 711 (2) Conference Board of Trustees has the power to invest funds which it may hold in trust and such funds may be invested only in collateral that is amply secured, unless otherwise directed by the Annual Conference. A loan may be an investment, depending upon the terms, conditions, rate of interest and security for said loan. The judgment as to when a loan shall be made as an investment is within the discretion of the Board of Trustees, subject to its responsibility to the Annual Conference.
In the instant case the Judicial Council deems this to be a moot or academic question, in view of the action taken by the Virginia Annual Conference of 1959 in receiving the report of the Board of Trustees and requesting a detailed study of Camp Kewanzee as to its value and use; and in 1960 by authorizing the purchase of the property on which the loan was made.
We believe there should be restraint in the exercise of the broad power to make declaratory decisions, guided by the original legislative intent. Historically, the 1944 General Conference Act granting the Judicial Council the power to utter declaratory decisions contained this injunction: "Moot and hypothetical questions will 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 Committee on Judiciary of the 1944 General Conference urged the new legislation, "because there seemed at times need for some definite interpretation of law before an action or law whose legality was in doubt had actually been effected." (Emphasis added) (Harmon, Nolan B. - The Organization of The Methodist Church, Page 211.)
In the instant case, the question raised as to the authority of the Conference Board of Trustees to lend money was after the action had been effected and in effect ratified by the Annual Conference. This clearly rendered the question moot or academic and the Judicial Council should not render a decision after the fact or action.
There is an additional and more cogent Constitutional reason for restraint upon the exercise of power to utter a declaratory decision, but this reason is not relied upon in this case.
Division Three, Article VII, of the Constitution (Paragraph 40, 1960 Discipline) provides "a bishop presiding over a District, Annual or Jurisdictional Conference shall decide all questions of law coming before him in the regular business of a session; . . ." We believe this constitutional provision gives exclusive mandate to the presiding bishop to decide all questions of law properly presented in the business session of the Annual Conference, and is superior to the legislative grant of the power to make declaratory decisions. For this reason the Judicial Council should not render a declaratory decision on a question of law raised in an Annual Conference until it is decided by the presiding bishop and properly presented to the Judicial Council as prescribed in the Constitution (Paragraph 43 (2&3) 1960 Discipline). This was our view in Decision 153 (October 17, 1958).
We, therefore, hold the question raised for declaratory decision was after the Annual Conference had taken action which rendered the question moot and academic and the Judicial Council will not render a declaratory decision on a moot or academic question after the fact or action.