Sunday, March 08, 2015

A.S Haley: The Meaning of the Fort Worth Decision

Saturday, March 7, 2015

...A partial summary judgment is one, then, that grants summary judgment, but only as to part of the whole case. Perhaps there were some claims raised by one of the sides that will require a jury to sort out the facts. The court cannot grant a summary judgment as to those issues -- while it is able to do so on the other claims in the case.

And that was what happened in the Fort Worth case. The parties each brought motions for summary judgment as to the issues of who controlled the diocesan corporation that owned all the real property, and whether or not there was any permanent trust imposed upon that property. As to those issues, Judge Chupp ruled that the trustees elected by Bishop Iker's diocese controlled the corporation, and that the corporation held its real property free and clear of any trust in favor of the national Church.

ECUSA and Bishop Iker each had additional claims against the other, however, which could not be resolved by summary judgment. For the most part, ECUSA alleged that Bishop Iker breached his "fiduciary duties" owed to the national Church, or converted property that was not his, or committed trespass, while Bishop Iker asserted claims against ECUSA for trademark infringement and damages.  These raised disputed questions of fact which would need to be tried before a jury. So ECUSA was not able to move for summary judgment as to its whole complaint; nor could Bishop Iker move for summary judgment on his whole complaint -- they both had to settle for motions for partial summary judgment, as to the facts that were undisputed, and as to just the claims that turned on those facts.

Now, however, that Judge Chupp has ruled in Bishop Iker's favor on the main claims, the lesser claims by ECUSA are, for all practical purposes, "moot" -- that is, they no longer matter to the outcome of the case. Because Bishop Iker is the rightful head of the diocesan corporation, then nothing he did with the corporation's property could ever amount to conversion, trespass, or breach of fiduciary duty. As just noted, however, there are still some claims to be tried on Bishop Iker's side. The judgment is only partial, and not final, as long as there are still claims which have not been resolved; an appeal may be taken only from a final judgment... the rest


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