Judge Rules That Church, Not Presbytery, Owns Property

A judge has ruled in favor of First Pres. Church in Houston in its battle with New Covenant Presbytery

“The judge’s decision included a permanent injunction that barred the presbytery, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and any people or entities related to it from doing anything that would interfere with or disturb First Presbyterian’s “ownership, use, control or disposition” of the property.”

 

A judge has ruled in favor of First Presbyterian Church in Houston in its legal battle with New Covenant Presbytery for its property.

On Feb. 20, Judge Wesley R. Ward granted the church’s request for summary judgment, “finding that there is no genuinely disputed issue of material fact and that  plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

In his decision, Ward found that there was “no enforceable trust or property interest created by any version of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order or the Presbyterian Church of the United States Book of Church Order under the neutral principle factors set forth by the Texas Supreme Court in Masterson V. Diocese of NW  Texas.”

“Judge Ward’s decision is firmly rooted in Texas law and the facts of this case,” said one of the church’s lawyers, Lloyd J. Lunceford, who is also a member of the board of directors of the Presbyterian Lay Committee. “The court rejected the presbytery’s argument that a valid trust arose under the express trust clauses that were added to the PCUS and PCUSA constitutions in the early 1980s, and the court rejected the presbytery’s novel, fallback argument that a trust or other property right arose under the denomination’s dissolving clause that dated to 1925. Needless to say, the leadership of FPC Houston is gratified and is looking forward to a bright future of Christian ministry without any distracting threat or confusion about the property rights of the local church. The local church’s legal representation was a team effort, involving my Baton Rouge firm, Taylor Porter, the Dallas-based firm of Craddock Davis & Krause, and the Houston-based firm of Susman & Godfrey. It was a privilege to be a part of that team and to help represent such a wonderful client.”

The decision stated that “all property … is held and owned by First Presbyterian Church in Houston … in full, complete, unfettered, fee simple and absolute ownership and title, all in accordance with the laws of the State of Texas.”

It also stated that the “trust and other property interests claims” made by the presbytery are “unenforceable and without legal force and effect.”

The judge’s decision included a permanent injunction that barred the presbytery, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and any people or entities related to it from doing anything that would interfere with or disturb First Presbyterian’s “ownership, use, control or disposition” of the property.

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