Bruce v. Central Methodist Episcopal Church

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Writing for the CourtCARPENTER
Citation147 Mich. 230,110 N.W. 951
Decision Date05 March 1907
PartiesBRUCE v. CENTRAL METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH.

147 Mich. 230
110 N.W. 951

BRUCE
v.
CENTRAL METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH.

Supreme Court of Michigan.

March 5, 1907.


Case-Made from Circuit Court, Kent County; Alfred Wolcott, Judge.

Action by Albin Bruce against the Central Methodist Episcopal Church. There was a judgment for defendant on demurrer. Case-made reversed.

Argued before CARPENTER, C. J., and McALVAY, GRANT, BLAIR, MONTGOMERY, OSTRANDER, HOOKER, and MOORE, JJ.

[110 N.W. 951]

Carroll, Kirwin & Hollway, for appellant.

D. C. Sheldon (N. O. Griswold, of counsel), for appellee.


CARPENTER, C. J.

Defendant is a Methodist Episcopal Church, incorporated under Act No. 11, page 10, of the Public Acts of 1899. It is charged in plaintiff's declaration that while he (plaintiff) was at work for a contractor tinting the ceiling of defendant's church edifice, the scaffolding upon which he stood, and which was furnished by defendant, and which was defective owing to defendant's negligence, broke, and that he was thrown to the floor and injured. Defendant demurred to this declaration upon the ground that it ‘is not liable for any neglect or default of any agent or servant having the care and custody of its property,’ and upon other grounds which need not be mentioned. This demurrer was sustained, and judgment entered in defendant's favor. Plaintiff asks us to reverse that judgment.

I agree with my Brother OSTRANDER that we should decide this case upon the assumption that defendant's property ‘is not held subject to any express trust created by the grantor or vendor of the property,’ and that ‘we should proceed upon the theory that the defendant may not devote its property to the use of any other religious denomination or to other than religious purposes.’ The principle of respondeat superior-that one is responsible for the acts of his agent-applies, and makes defendant liable for the wrong done to plaintiff, unless defendant is exempt from the operation of that principle because it is administering a charitable trust. The claim is made that it is so exempt by reason of Downes v. Harper Hospital, decided by this court in 1894 and reported in 101 Mich. 555, 60 N. W. 42,25 L. R. A. 602, 45 Am. St. Rep. 427. See, also, Pepke v. Grace Hospital, 130 Mich. 493, 90 N. W. 278. In Downes v. Harper Hospital this court held, as correctly stated in the headnote to that case: ‘A corporation organized and maintained for no private gain, but for the proper care and medical treatment of the sick, and to that end to manage a trust fund donated for that purpose, cannot be made liable for injuries sustained by a patient by reason of the negligent acts of its managers or employés.’

It is urged that that case does not apply, because a church fund which is a fund devoted to religious purposes is not-like a fund devoted to the care and medical treatment of the sick-a charitable trust fund. It is, in my judgment, important to determine whether this distinction is sound. In Allen v. Duffie, 43 Mich. 1, 4 N. W. 427,38 Am. Rep. 159, this court decided that a subscription made on Sunday for the purpose of erecting a house of worship for a religious society was a work of charity, and therefore enforceable in the courts. In the course of that opinion, which is written by Justice Cooley, it is said: ‘Charity is active goodness. It is doing good to our fellow men. It is fostering those institutions that are established to relieve pain, to prevent suffering, and to do good to mankind in general, or to any class or portion of mankind. * * * It was never doubted, so far as we know, that all the necessary or usual work connected with religious worship was work of charity. If it were not so, the minister who preaches, the organist and precentor who furnish the music, and the sexton who cares for the building on Sunday, would be violating the law every day they performed service for their religious society, and not only would be precluded from recovering compensation, but might be punished for services which are proper in themselves, and for which the day is specially set apart. But their work is not illegal, because it is, in a true sense, and indeed in the very highest sense, charitable. Religious societies are formed to do good to mankind. * * * But, as the public is not taxed for the support of churches and other religious societies, a private donation in their aid is not charity in the same sense in which a donation which relieves a public burden is a charity. The charity in such case consists in giving aid to an institution whose purpose is to do good in other ways than by making pecuniary burdens lighter, and this, as is said above, is charity in a higher sense than is the mere relief from a pecuniary burden.’ It is settled by this decision that, in contributing to a church fund, one is performing a work of charity. Does it not follow that the fund contributed to is a charitable fund? Both the Am. & Eng. Encyc. of Law (see volume 5, p. 894 [2d Ed.]) and the Cyclopedia

[110 N.W. 952]

of Law and Procedure (see volume 6, p. 900) define public charity as ‘a gift, to be applied consistently with existing laws, for the benefit of an indefinite number of persons, either by bringing their minds or hearts under the influence of education or religion, by relieving their bodies from disease, suffering, or constraint, by assisting them to establish themselves in life, or by erecting or maintaining public buildings or works, or otherwise lessening the burden of government.’ It cannot justly be contended that the notion that gifts for religious purposes are charitable is derived from the statute of Elizabeth, for it is correctly stated in 6 Cyc. p. 913, ‘gifts for the advancement of religion were held charitable long before the Statute of Elizabeth, and are, by analogy, within that statute, though the ‘repair of churches' is the only reference thereto in its summary of purposes,’ citing Powerscourt v. Powerscourt, Beatty, 572.

It is contended that the fund of a particular church like that of defendant is not charitable within the foregoing definition, because it is to be used, not for the benefit of an indefinite number of persons, but for the benefit of its own members, or, to quote from the opinion of Justice OSTRANDER, its property ‘is devoted primarily and essentially to the purpose of the particular body which owns it.’ We cannot answer this contention better than by quoting from the decision of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts in McAlister v. Burgess, 161 Mass. 271, 37 N. E. 173,24 L. R. A. 158: “The very term ‘church’ imports an organization for religious purposes, and property given to it eo nomine, in the absence of all declaration of trust or use, must, by necessary implication, be intended to be given to promote the purposes for which a church is instituted, the most prominent of which is the public worship of God.' It follows that the legitimate use by a church of property so given must result in its application for the benefit of those who attend upon, or are within the sphere of the influence of, the services of the church, by bringing them under the influence of religion. It is a matter of common knowledge that the individuals who attend the services of any particular church are not limited to the members of that church, but are an indefinite and varying number of persons, and there can be no question that an indefinite number of persons are constantly benefited by having their minds and hearts brought under the influence of religion by poor churches of the city of Boston and vicinity. (The gift in question was a gift ‘for the benefit of poor churches of the city of Boston and vicinity.’) * * * In our opinion, a gift to a church, without restrictions as to the use to be made of the property, is a gift to be applied for the promotion of public worship and of religious instruction, which must necessarily influence other than church members, and, if in trust, has all the elements of a public charity.' In this opinion the court distinguished Old South Society v. Crocker, 119 Mass. 1, 20 Am. Rep. 299 (this is typical of several cases which it is contended are opposed to its reasoning), by pointing out that the property there in question was conveyed to the church (part of it was conveyed and part devised) ‘not for the general purposes of the church,’ but ‘for the erection of a meetinghouse, and of a dwelling for the minister,’ and concluded by stating: ‘The case is certainly not an authority for the position that a gift for the benefit of a church simpliciter is not a public charity.’ It is true that the statutes of this state for the incorporation of hospitals are different from those for the incorporation of churches; but I can find nothing in those statutes from which it may be argued that the former is a public charitable institution, and that the latter is not. An examination of those statutes shows that there is a likeness and a difference between corporations organized for a hospital purpose and those organized for a religious purpose. The likeness is this: each holds its property for a trust purpose. The difference is this: the property of the hospital is devoted to the care and medical treatment of the sick, the property of the church is devoted to a religious purpose. We cannot hold that the property of a hospital is a charitable trust fund and that the property of a church is not a charitable trust fund, unless we hold that funds devoted to a religious purpose are not charitable trust funds. The foregoing reasoning and authorities prevent our so holding. On the contrary, we are compelled to hold that funds devoted to a religious purpose are charitable trust funds. I conclude, therefore, that we cannot hold the principle of the decision in Downes v. Harper Hospital, supra, inapplicable, upon the ground that the funds of the church are not charitable trust funds.

This leads us to the inquiry: Is there any other ground upon which we should hold Downes v. Harper Hospital inapplicable?...

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55 practice notes
  • Andrews v. Young Men's Christian Ass'n of Des Moines, No. 44403.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 15, 1939
    ...Geiger v. Simpson Methodist-Episcopal Church, 174 Minn. 389, 219 N.W. 463, 62 A.L.R. 716;Bruce v. Central Methodist Episcopal Church, 147 Mich. 230, 110 N.W. 951, 10 L.R.A.,N.S., 74, 11 Ann.Cas. 150;Alabama Baptist Hospital Board v. Carter, 226 Ala. 109, 145 So. 443;Powers v. Massachusetts ......
  • Parker v. Port Huron Hosp., Nos. 10
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • September 15, 1960
    ...by it in carrying on and furthering its benevolent purposes. Justice Carpenter, writing in the case of Bruce v. Central M. E. Church, 147 Mich. 230, 110 N.W. 951, 10 L.R.A.,N.S., 74, distinguished the Downes case and indicated it was limited to those who are beneficiaries of a charitable tr......
  • Eads v. Young Women's Christian Assn., No. 28541.
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • June 11, 1930
    ...572; Winnemore v. Phil., 18 Pa. Sup. Ct. 625; Hewett v. Woman's Hosp. Assn., 73 N.H. 556, 64 Atl. 190; Bruce v. Central M.E. Church, 147 Mich. 230, 110 N.W. 951; Horndern v. Salvation Army, 199 N.Y. 233, 92 N.E. 626; McInerny v. St. Luke's etc. Assn. 122 Minn. 10, 141 N.W. 837; Armendarez v......
  • Sessions v. Thomas D. Dee Memorial Hospital Ass'n, 5907
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • April 25, 1938
    ...1918F, 185; Glaser v. Congregation Kehillath Israel, 263 Mass. 435, 161 N.E. 619; Michigan: Bruce v. Central Methodist Episcopal Church, 147 Mich. 230, 110 N.W. 951, 10 L. R. A., N. S., 74, 11 Ann. Cas. 150; Mississippi: Eastman Gardiner Co. v. Permenter, 111 Miss. 813, 72 So. 234; Missouri......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
55 cases
  • Andrews v. Young Men's Christian Ass'n of Des Moines, No. 44403.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 15, 1939
    ...Geiger v. Simpson Methodist-Episcopal Church, 174 Minn. 389, 219 N.W. 463, 62 A.L.R. 716;Bruce v. Central Methodist Episcopal Church, 147 Mich. 230, 110 N.W. 951, 10 L.R.A.,N.S., 74, 11 Ann.Cas. 150;Alabama Baptist Hospital Board v. Carter, 226 Ala. 109, 145 So. 443;Powers v. Massachusetts ......
  • Parker v. Port Huron Hosp., Nos. 10
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • September 15, 1960
    ...by it in carrying on and furthering its benevolent purposes. Justice Carpenter, writing in the case of Bruce v. Central M. E. Church, 147 Mich. 230, 110 N.W. 951, 10 L.R.A.,N.S., 74, distinguished the Downes case and indicated it was limited to those who are beneficiaries of a charitable tr......
  • Eads v. Young Women's Christian Assn., No. 28541.
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • June 11, 1930
    ...572; Winnemore v. Phil., 18 Pa. Sup. Ct. 625; Hewett v. Woman's Hosp. Assn., 73 N.H. 556, 64 Atl. 190; Bruce v. Central M.E. Church, 147 Mich. 230, 110 N.W. 951; Horndern v. Salvation Army, 199 N.Y. 233, 92 N.E. 626; McInerny v. St. Luke's etc. Assn. 122 Minn. 10, 141 N.W. 837; Armendarez v......
  • Sessions v. Thomas D. Dee Memorial Hospital Ass'n, 5907
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • April 25, 1938
    ...1918F, 185; Glaser v. Congregation Kehillath Israel, 263 Mass. 435, 161 N.E. 619; Michigan: Bruce v. Central Methodist Episcopal Church, 147 Mich. 230, 110 N.W. 951, 10 L. R. A., N. S., 74, 11 Ann. Cas. 150; Mississippi: Eastman Gardiner Co. v. Permenter, 111 Miss. 813, 72 So. 234; Missouri......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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