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Burns v. Kingdom Impact Global Ministries, Inc.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

February 7, 2017

GEORGE BURNS, MACK McCANN and CHARLES BARTLETT, Trustees of Park's Chapel Free Will Baptist Church, Plaintiff(s),
v.
KINGDOM IMPACT GLOBAL MINISTRIES, INC., Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 24 May 2016.

         Appeal by Defendant from orders entered 18 December 2014 by Judge Richard T. Brown and 19 June 2015 by Judge Tanya T. Wallace[1] in Cumberland County Superior Court No. 13 CVS 8726.

          Yarborough, Winters & Neville, P.A., by J. Thomas Neville, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

          James H. Locus, Jr., for Defendant-Appellant.

          INMAN, JUDGE.

         Kingdom Impact Global Ministries, Inc. ("Defendant" or "Kingdom Impact") appeals from the 19 June 2015 order granting a motion for summary judgment in favor of George Burns, Mack McCann, and Charles Bartlett, in their capacity as trustees of Parks Chapel Free Will Baptist Church (collectively "Plaintiffs"), as the rightful title holder to several tracts of land located at 868 Amye Street in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Defendant also appeals the trial court's 18 December 2014 order imposing sanctions for Defendant's failure to respond to Plaintiffs' discovery requests. Defendant argues that Plaintiffs lacked standing, and that the trial court erred in imposing discovery sanctions and granting Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment because there existed genuine issues of material facts. After careful review, we affirm the trial court's discovery sanctions and summary judgment orders.

         Factual History

         This appeal arises out of the disputed ownership of real property located at 868 Amye Street, in Fayetteville, North Carolina ("the Property"). The Property, conveyed seventy years ago to the trustees of Free Will Baptist Church, is comprised of several tracts of land and includes a church sanctuary. Over the years, parishioners deeded various tracts of land to the "Trustees of the Freewill Baptist Church and their successors" and later to the "Trustees of Parks Chapel Free Will Baptist Church and their successors." The church was affiliated with the United American Free Will Baptist Denomination (the "Denomination").

         The tracts central to this dispute, where the sanctuary is sited, have been historically identified as Lots 12, 13, and 14 according to the plat of "Mac's Park." In 1947, Emily McMillan conveyed Lots 13 and 14 by deed to the trustees of Freewill Baptist Church to be used for church purposes. In 1967, Mabel McNeill conveyed Lot 12 by deed to the trustees of Free Will Baptist Church to be used by the Denomination.

         Contained within the 1947 deed conveying Lots 13 and 14 to Free Will Baptist Church is the following restrictive language:

TO HAVE AND TO HOLD, the aforesaid lots of land and all privileges and appurtenances thereto belonging, to the said parties of the second part, and their successors in office, to their only use and behood for so long as said property is used only for church purposes, and no longer, upon the trust, nevertheless, that said property be held by the parties of the second part, and their successors in office, for the sole use, benefit, and enjoyment of said FREEWILL BAPTIST CHURCH, its successors and assigns.

         The 1967 deed conveying Lot 12 to Free Will Baptist Church includes the following restrictive language:

In trust that said premises shall be used, maintained and disposed of as a place of Divine worship for the use of the United American Free Will Baptist Church in America, subject to the discipline, usage, and ministerial elections of said church, as may be authorized and declared from time to time by the General Conference of said church and the Annual Conference in whose bounds the premises are situated.

         In 1984, the trustees of Free Will Baptist Church conveyed Lots 13 and 14 to the trustees of Parks Chapel Free Will Baptist Church ("Parks Chapel") as successor to Free Will Baptist Church. It is undisputed that the church simply changed its name at that time. It is also undisputed that the trustees of Free Will Baptist Church, for reasons that do not appear in the record, did not convey title in Lot 12 to the trustees of Parks Chapel when they conveyed Lots 13 and 14 when the church changed its name.

         In 1999, Parks Chapel became incorporated under North Carolina law as a registered charitable or religious nonprofit corporation. The corporate bylaws required that the church be governed by the Book of Discipline of the Denomination, stating "this local church shall maintain its' [sic] affiliation with the United American Freewill Baptist Denomination and agrees to recognize and be governed by the United American Freewill Baptist Discipline . . . ."

         On 3 April 2009, at the conclusion of a worship service, then acting pastor of Parks Chapel, William Thomas Ford ("Pastor Ford"), held a conference meeting to propose withdrawing Parks Chapel from the Denomination and the regional conference to which it was assigned, Cape Fear Conference B (the "Conference"). The parties submitted conflicting evidence before the trial court regarding whether notice of the meeting was provided, who was permitted the opportunity to vote on the withdrawal, and the outcome of a vote held during the meeting.

         A month later, on 8 May 2009, Pastor Ford sent a letter to the Denomination and the Conference notifying them that Parks Chapel was withdrawing its membership and would cease paying dues.

         In February 2010, Pastor Ford signed Articles of Incorporation for Kingdom Impact, which were filed with the North Carolina Secretary of State's Office, declaring Kingdom Impact a non-profit religious organization. In May 2010, Frances Jackson, identified as a trustee of Parks Chapel, signed Articles of Merger of Parks Chapel Freewill Baptist Church, Inc. into Kingdom Impact Global Ministries, Inc. with the Secretary of State's Office. The affidavit testimony before the trial court however, challenged whether the merger was properly voted on by the members of Parks Chapel.

         In June 2010, one month after the Articles of Merger were filed, the Denomination appointed Nathaniel Jackson as the Interim Pastor of Parks Chapel. The members of Parks Chapel who had opposed the withdrawal from the Denomination continued their affiliation with the Denomination and met for worship at ...


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