Sunday, June 2, 2013

True Gospel Church Ministries, Inc v. Church of God In Christ - Ky. App. 2012 [Unpublished]

True Gospel Church Ministries, Inc v. Church of God In Christ

Kentucky Court of Appeals
Rendered: JULY 6, 2012

Full opinion here.

NO. 2011-CA-000796-MR
Appeal from the Christian County Circuit Court: Cause No. 10-CI-00127

Denial of motion to vacate a default judgment affirmed.

This case involved an ecclesiastical dispute regarding the ownership of real property used by a local congregation as its church facility. The beloved founding minister died and his children and most of the congregation objected to the replacement minister appointed by the national denomination. The deceased minister’s children attempted to transfer the real property from the original church organization to a new spin-off church organization. On January 27, 2010 the national denomination filed suit against the new spin-off church organization and the children individually for rescission of the property transfer. It is assumed that all defendants are properly served.

Nearly ten months elapsed with no appearances or answers from any defendant. On October 6, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a motion for default judgment and/or for summary judgment. The court scheduled the motion for a hearing on October 20, 2010. At the hearing, one of the individual defendants informed the court that counsel had been retained. Thereafter, counsel entered an appearance for the corporate church defendant only and he filed a response in opposition to the plaintiffs’ motion. He did not submit an answer to Plaintiffs’ complaint. The court rescheduled a hearing on Plaintiffs’ motion for January 12, 2011, but counsel for defendant church failed to appear at that hearing. The court re-scheduled the hearing for February 23, 2011 at which time the court took Plaintiffs’ motion under advisement.
“. . . . On March 3, 2011, the court entered a memorandum opinion stating that it was granting the motion for default judgment. In doing so, the court noted that: no one had entered an appearance or filed an answer on behalf of [the individual defendants]; and despite an order to do so, counsel for the True Gospel Ministries had not filed an answer on its behalf. . . . ”
On March 18, 2011, a different attorney entered his appearance on behalf of all the defendants and moved for relief from the default judgment, which the court denied. Defendants appealed the default judgment and the denial of their motion to set the default judgment aside.

Defendants never did tender an answer to the plaintiffs’ complaint, nor did they otherwise articulate any defense to the claim for relief, other than they were opposed to it and to claim they had some facts that were important. The only excuse Defendants offered for not answering the complaint was to blame it on the lawyer.

In its unpublished opinion, the Kentucky Court of Appeals basically agreed with the trial court that shit-canning this action was probably a good idea, but expressed it with greater elegance.

The Court cited the following cases:
  1. Greathouse v.Am. Nat'l Bank & Trust Co., 796 S.W.2d 868, 870 (Ky. App. 1990)
  2. S.R. Blanton Development, Inc. v. Investors Realty and Management Co., Inc., 819 S.W.2d 727 (Ky. App. 1991)
  3. PNC Bank, N.A. v. Citizens Bank of Northern Kentucky, Inc., 139 S.W.3d 527 (Ky. App. 2003)
  4. First Horizon Home Loan Corp. v. Barbanel, 290 S.W.3d 686 (Ky. App. 2009)
C.R. 76.28(4)(c) provides:
“Opinions that are not to be published shall not be cited or used as binding precedent in any other case in any court of this state; however, unpublished Kentucky appellate decisions, rendered after January 1, 2003, may be cited for consideration by the court if there is no published opinion that would adequately address the issue before the court. Opinions cited for consideration by the court shall be set out as an unpublished decision in the filed document and a copy of the entire decision shall be tendered along with the document to the court and all parties to the action.”
There is nothing about the legal issues discussed in this opinion that is unique or particularly useful. The standard on reviewing trial court discretion and what a defendant needs to show in order to justify setting aside a judgment by default is fairly standard stuff.  The usefulness of the case is to demonstrate what is not an abuse of trial court discretion, and to illustrate the extraordinary patience trial judges must frequently exhibit.

If the exact same facts arise again, this case might be used as controlling precedent.