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Gunn v. First Baptist Church

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

June 7, 2018

HAROLD R. GUNN
v.
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH ET AL.

          April 18, 2018 Session

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Gibson County No. H4061 William B. Acree, Senior Judge

         Appellant, a member of First Baptist Church of Humboldt, appeals the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Appellees, the church, its pastor, and chairman of the deacons. Appellant challenged the vote to change the name of the church to "The Church at Sugar Creek." Finding that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine acted as a jurisdictional bar, the trial court granted summary judgment. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court is Affirmed and Remanded

          Harold Ross Gunn, pro se, Humboldt, Tennessee, Appellant.

          John Dean Burleson, Jennifer Vallor Ivy, Jackson, Tennessee, for the Appellees, First Baptist Church (Humboldt, TN), Greg McFadden, and Gerry Brittain.

          Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Arnold B. Goldin, J., joined.

          OPINION

          KENNY ARMSTRONG, JUDGE.

         I. Background

         On February 26, 2017, members of First Baptist Church of Humboldt ("the Church") voted to change the name of the Church to "The Church at Sugar Creek." Harold R. Gunn ("Appellant") is a member of the Church and was upset with the Church's vote to change its name.

         On May 30, 2017, in the Circuit Court of Gibson County at Humboldt ("trial court"), Appellant filed a Complaint against the Church, its pastor, Dr. Greg McFadden, and the Chairman of the Deacons, Gerry Brittain (together with the Church and Mr. McFadden, "Appellees"). Appellant alleged that the vote to change the Church's name was illegal and, thus, void. Appellant asked the trial court to set aside the vote, to order a new vote, and to enjoin the Church from changing its name. Appellees filed a joint Answer on June 30, 2017 and an amended answer on August 31, 2017.

         On August 23, 2017, Appellees filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing, inter alia, that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine deprived the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction over the case. On September 20, 2017, Appellant filed a response in opposition to Appellees' motion. By order of November 28, 2017, the trial court granted Appellees' Motion for Summary Judgment. The trial court held that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the case because the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine precluded the trial court from adjudicating any issue regarding the internal affairs and management of the Church. The trial court explained that Appellant's primary concern was whether each person who voted on the Church's name change was a member of the Church. Applying the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, the trial court concluded that it did not have authority to determine whether each voter was a member of the Church and, thus, could not adjudicate the matter because it lacked jurisdiction. Accordingly, the trial court granted summary judgment, dismissing the case. Mr. Gunn appeals.

         II. Issues

         Appellant raises four issues on appeal; however, we perceive that there ...


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