Judge Rejects Dismissal of Church Suit Decision by Massachusetts Judge to Deny Summary Judgment on Lawsuit against Officers of the Christian Science Church Moves Suit Closer to Trial

Article excerpt

A MASSACHUSETTS judge has rejected a motion for summary judgment sought by former and present officers of the Christian Science Church in a dispute over church government.

The ruling moves the case, a civil suit filed against church officials, one step closer to trial.

"I rule that the plaintiffs have valid claims for relief, that they have standing to bring them, and that neither the state or the federal Constitution is an impediment to the limited remedies sought by these plaintiffs," wrote Suffolk Superior Court Judge Vieri Volterra. The decision dated Aug. 30 was released Friday.

Before the case goes to trial, an appeal of Judge Volterra's decision is likely, says Theodore Dinsmoor, attorney for the defendants. "The decision is somewhat perfunctory and does not address the evidence defendants submitted to the court. I think that if this evidence is reviewed at the appellate level, there is a high probability the decision will be reversed."

Allan van Gestel, attorney for the plaintiffs, did not respond over the holiday weekend to phone messages seeking comment on the decision.

The charges

Plaintiffs Elizabeth Weaver of Glen Arbor, Mich., and Roy Varner of Houston, Texas, allege that present and former officers of The Mother Church and the Christian Science Publishing Society in Boston wrongfully spent hundreds of millions of dollars on media ventures between 1988 and 1992. They allege that these expenditures violated provisions of the Manual of The Mother Church and two deeds of trust, all written by Mary Baker Eddy, the church's founder. The plaintiffs want the court to enforce their interpretation of the bylaws. They also seek a detailed accounting of church expenditures from 1988 to the present.

The defendants, including several present and former members of the Christian Science Board of Directors, argue the plaintiffs lack standing to sue. The defendants contend that Varner and Weaver are unable to show that as church members they have been deprived of any right to vote or of any personal, legal interest in the management, funds, or operation of the church that would entitle them to a remedy under the law.

Judge Volterra rejected the defendants' argument on standing. "The plaintiffs are members of The Mother Church in a special and unique manner separate and distinct from any member of the public. Indeed, the plaintiffs have been elected to be members of The Mother Church, and they stand as beneficiaries of the property of The Mother Church as established by the wills and trusts of Mrs. Eddy," the judge wrote.

Church officials had also argued for summary judgment on the grounds that the First Amendment to the US Constitution deprives the court of jurisdiction to hear the case. …


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