Court of Appeals upholds win for local congregation

The Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, affirmed that Gashland Presbyterian Church, located in Kansas City, Missouri, did not create or consent to a trust over its property. Gashland had been sued by Heartland Presbytery, which claimed a trust on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

According to the Court, “Gashland, a local Presbyterian congregation, terminated its affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (“PCUSA”), a national religious denomination, and with the PCUSA’s Heartland Presbytery. Heartland initiated this action against Gashland, claiming that Gashland held title to its church property in trust for the denomination. The circuit court dismissed Heartlands first amended petition for failure to state a claim. Because Heartland’s petition fails to allege facts which could establish a trust relationship under Missouri law, we affirm.”

In examining the legal issues, the Court of Appeals agreed that under Missouri law, “fundamental principles of Missouri law required some effective expression of intent by [the congregation]” to create a trust in favor of the denomination. This contradicted Heartland’s stance that local congregations are automatically bound by a 1983 “Property-Trust Clause” in the PCUSA’s Book of Order.

The opinion is available at this link [pdf] to the Court of Appeals’ website. Gashland was represented by G. Stanton Masters of the Masters Law Firm; Michael Whitehead of the Whitehead Law Firm; and Jonathan Whitehead of the Law Offices of Jonathan R. Whitehead.