Boatmen's First Nat. Bank of West Plains v. Southern Missouri Dist. Council of the Assemblies of God

Decision Date21 February 1991
Docket NumberNo. 16870,16870
Citation806 S.W.2d 706
PartiesBOATMEN'S FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF WEST PLAINS and West Plains Bank, Plaintiffs, v. SOUTHERN MISSOURI DISTRICT COUNCIL OF THE ASSEMBLIES OF GOD, et al., Defendants-Cross-claimants-Appellants, v. Dennis K. VONALLMEN, Noel W. Smith, Samuel Click, J.W. Stapleton, and Gary Smith, Defendants-Cross-claimants-Respondents.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Page 706

806 S.W.2d 706
BOATMEN'S FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF WEST PLAINS and West Plains
Bank, Plaintiffs,
v.
SOUTHERN MISSOURI DISTRICT COUNCIL OF THE ASSEMBLIES OF GOD,
et al., Defendants-Cross-claimants-Appellants,
v.
Dennis K. VONALLMEN, Noel W. Smith, Samuel Click, J.W.
Stapleton, and Gary Smith,
Defendants-Cross-claimants-Respondents.
No. 16870.
Missouri Court of Appeals,
Southern District,
Division Two.
Feb. 21, 1991.
Motion for Rehearing or Transfer
Denied March 15, 1991.

Application to Transfer Denied May 3, 1991.

Page 707

Aaron Wm. Sachs, Harrison, Tucker & Hyde and John E. Price, Woolsey, Fisher, Whiteaker & McDonald, Springfield, for defendants-cross-claimants-appellants.

Patrick J. Platter and Paul F. Sherman, Daniel, Clampett, Lilley, Dalton, Powell & Cunningham, Springfield, for defendants-cross-claimants-respondents.

SHRUM, Judge.

We are asked to decide if the trial court erred in entering summary judgment for a local church organization, awarding it control of bank funds against the claim of a second church organization, and in designating its judgment final for purposes of appeal pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 74.01(b). Although we believe

Page 708

there exist genuine issues of material fact and that summary judgment was inappropriate, we conclude that the trial court erred in its application of Rule 74.01(b) and that there is no final judgment from which an appeal lies. Accordingly, we dismiss the appeal without prejudice.

PARTIES ON APPEAL, PROCEDURE BELOW, AND FACTS

This lawsuit concerns a dispute over which of two groups of persons constitutes the board of directors of First Assembly of God Church of West Plains, a.k.a. First Assembly Church of West Plains (the "local church"). The appellants are the Southern Missouri District Council of the Assemblies of God, a corporate body which has attempted to place the local church under "district supervision" and govern it through a "board of trustees" which, the appellants claim, is serving temporarily as the board of directors of the local church. The other appellants are the purported trustees themselves, Rev. L. Jack Moore, Rev. Charles Stoker, and Rev. Joe Combs, and one Noel Crick. The respondents are members of the board of directors of the local church faction that claims the local church is no longer affiliated with the Assemblies of God denomination.

The litigation began as separate actions in interpleader brought by Boatmen's First National Bank of West Plains and West Plains Bank. In their petitions, the banks alleged that the appellants and respondents were adverse claimants to funds in various accounts in the banks. The trial court consolidated the actions, ordered the banks to pay the funds to the circuit court, discharged the banks from liability, and awarded the banks their attorney fees out of the funds.

As the interpleader actions were pending, both parties to this appeal filed cross-claims against one another. Appellants alleged that the local church had been placed under "district supervision" pursuant to the local church's bylaws and that certain actions of the "previous" church board were invalid. Appellants sought an injunction against the "previous" board affecting all local church property, including the bank funds, the church building, the parsonage, the church van, and other unspecified assets. Respondents in their cross-claim alleged that the local church had disassociated itself from the Assemblies of God denomination, renamed itself, and had amended its constitution and bylaws. In effect, the respondents denied the local church was under "district supervision." Respondents sought the bank funds only, asked the court to "adjudge [respondents] duly authorized and entitled to handle the accounts as the Board of Directors of [the local church]," and asked that appellants be required to pay the banks' and the respondents' attorney fees.

After the trial court entered the judgments in interpleader, respondents filed a motion for summary judgment on their cross-claim. From the pleadings, affidavits, and other documents before the trial court when it considered the respondents' motion for summary judgment, the following facts emerge. The local church was incorporated in 1973 under Chapter 355, Missouri's General Not For Profit Corporation Law. In its articles of incorporation, the local church was named "First Assembly of God Church of West Plains, Missouri," but the body did not obligate itself, in the articles, to affiliate with the Assemblies of God denomination. The same year, the local church adopted a document entitled "Constitution and Bylaws of First Assembly of God Church of West Plains, Missouri." The document was amended in 1979 and twice in 1987. The preamble to the document states in pertinent part:

[W]e ... do hereby recognize ourselves as a local assembly in fellowship with, and a part of the General Council of the Assemblies of God. We adopt the following articles of church order and submit ourselves to be governed by this document.

Included among the provisions of the constitution are the following:

ARTICLE II AFFILIATION

Section 1. While maintaining its inherent rights to sovereignty in the conduct

Page 709

of its own affairs, this assembly shall voluntarily enter into full cooperative fellowship with assemblies of like precious faith associated in the Southern Missouri District, and the General Council of the Assemblies of God, with headquarters at Springfield, Mo., and shall share in the privileges and assume the responsibilities enjoined by that affiliation.

....

Section 4. Items not covered by this document are referred to the Constitution and Bylaws of the Southern Missouri District Council.

....

ARTICLE III PREROGATIVES AND PURPOSES

Section 1. This assembly shall have the right to govern itself.... This right shall specifically include such matters as the ... election of an Official Board.

Section 2. In connection therewith ... it shall have the right to ... own ... any real estate or chattels as may be necessary for the furtherance of its purposes; all in accordance with its constitution and bylaws....

....

ARTICLE VII GOVERNMENT

Section 1. The government of this Assembly shall be vested in its Official Board which shall consist of the Pastor and five or more ... Deacons. This Board shall act as trustees of the Assembly, the corporate board and all spiritual and material management of this Assembly shall be committed to them, subject to the provisions of this constitution and bylaws. They shall be elected in the manner hereinafter provided.

The following local church bylaw provisions are pertinent:

ARTICLE II DUTIES OF OFFICERS

Section 1. THE PASTOR ... shall act as chairman of all business meetings of ... the Official Board, and shall be President of the Corporate Board.

....

Section 2. THE DEACONS ... shall serve as the Official Board, the Corporate Board....

....

(c) Should there arise irreconcilable differences between the pastor and...

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