Dunn v. Miller, No. 18508

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtMOSS; LEWIS, BUSSEY and BRAILSFORD, JJ., and W. L. RHODES, Jr.
Citation247 S.C. 567,148 S.E.2d 676
PartiesJohn DUNN et al., Respondents, v. T. J. MILLER et al., Appellants.
Decision Date27 May 1966
Docket NumberNo. 18508

Page 676

148 S.E.2d 676
247 S.C. 567
John DUNN et al., Respondents,
v.
T. J. MILLER et al., Appellants.
No. 18508.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
May 27, 1966.

[247 S.C. 568]

Page 677

James H. Price, Greenville, for appellants.

[247 S.C. 569] George F. Townes, Greenville, for respondents.

MOSS, Chief Justice.

This is a controversy between two unincorporated religious associations concerning the title to land now in the possession of the appellants and upon which improvements have been made by them.

Laws Chapel Church was organized in 1950. It is a Free Will Baptist Church and at the time this action was commenced was a member of the Toe River Association of Free Will Baptist Churches. It has been served by ministers ordained according to the discipline of Missionary Baptist Churches as well as regular Free Will Baptist ministers. It is a very small mountain church and has been unable to consistently find regular Free Will Baptist ministers to serve as pastors. When being served by Missionary Baptist ministers it remained organized according to the faith and discipline of the Free Will Baptist Church. From the latter part of 1958 until November, 1959, services at Laws Chapel Church were conducted by an ordained Missionary Baptist minister. The church, however, remained a Free Will Baptist Church. In February, 1960, Reverend [247 S.C. 570] H. B. Snow, an ordained Missionary Baptist minister, began conducting services at Laws Chapel Church.

The church building of Laws Chapel and the lot upon which it is situate is very small, being 20 feet by 30 feet. This particular property is not involved in the controversy. The controversy involves a lot of approximately one acre across the road from the church site, which was conveyed to the Board of Deacons as Trustees of Laws Chapel Church in 1950. This latter lot was used as a cemetery by Laws Chapel Church and the deed contains the following recitation: 'This property being purchased for the use and purpose of a cemetery of the Laws Chapel Church.'

In July, 1960, Reverend Snow obtained a deed signed by Gaither Laws, William C. Laws, John Laws and George Laws, purporting to be trustees and deacons of Laws Chapel Church, conveying the disputed property to the Marietta Second Baptist Church. Thereafter, a church building was erected on the disputed property, which when completed had across its front the name 'Marietta Second Baptist Church'. The named respondents, alleging that they are the true trustees and deacons of Laws Chapel Church, brought this action as trustees and deacons, and individually and representatives of the class of members of Laws Chapel Church, against the named appellants as deacons and trustees of Marietta Second Baptist Church, and as representatives of the class of all members of Marietta Second Baptist Church, to have the said deed set aside as being invalid and that the congregation of Laws Chapel Church be declared the owner of the disputed property. The appellants, by way of answer, alleged the validity of the deed and conduct on the part of the respondents amounting to an estoppel. The matter was referred to the Master in Equity for Greenville County, who, after hearing the testimony and evidence, found that the respondents were estopped to have the deed set aside and recommended that the prayer of the complaint be denied. Exceptions were taken to the Master's report and the matter was heard by The Honorable Frank [247 S.C. 571] Eppes, Resident Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, who held that the deed was not valid and that the respondents were not entitled to invoke the law of estoppel. The appellants have now appealed to this Court.

Page 678

This being an equity case and the factual findings of the Master and the Circuit Judge being in sharp disagreement on the material issues, this Court has jurisdiction to consider the evidence and finding of fact in accordance with our view of the preponderance or greater weight of the evidence. McLaughlin v. McLaughlin, 244 S.C. 265, 136 S.E.2d 537.

The record contains the testimony of two ministers who preceded Reverend Snow at Laws Chapel Church. One of the ministers served Laws Chapel Church during 1951 and 1952 and the other in 1958 and 1959. The first minister testified that during 1951 and 1952 the deacons of Laws Chapel Church were W. M. Laws, Charlie Laws and Dave Talley, and the trustees of said church were John Dunn, James Peterson and Richard Peterson. The other minister testified that during 1958 and 1959 the trustees were John Dunn, Richard Peterson and Charlie Laws, James Peterson having died. Testimony from other members of the church identified the trustees as John Dunn, Richard Peterson and Charlie Laws, and the deasons as W. M. Laws, Charlie Laws and Ike Story, Story having succeeded Talley.

The parties to the deed testified as to their official position: Gaither Laws testified that he was not a trustee or a deacon of Laws Chapel Church; John Laws testified that he had never been a deacon or trustee; George Laws also denied having ever been a deacon or trustee of the church; and William C. Laws, (also known as W. M. Laws), testified that he was a deacon but had never been a trustee of the church. There is no testimony in the record which states that William C. (W. M.) Laws, John Laws, George Laws and Gaither Laws were ever elected trustees of the church nor is there any testimony that Gaither Laws, John Laws and [247 S.C. 572] George Laws were ever elected deacons of the church. The evidence offered by the appellants to contradict the testimony of the witnesses as to the persons who were trustees and deacons of Laws Chapel Church is the disputed deed itself, and the testimony of Reverend H. B. Snow that the four persons who signed the deed represented themselves to be trustees and deacons. The only testimony from Reverend Snow, with regard to his knowledge of who the deacons and trustees of Laws Chapel were, is that the four men who signed the deed told him that they were the deacons and had full authority to dispose of church property, and that he relied on their statements without making further inquiry. Reverend Snow also testified that he did not know whether or not John Laws was a member of the church.

The Circuit Judge found that at the time of the execution of the disputed deed, the trustees of Laws Chapel Church were John Laws, Richard Peterson and Charlie Laws and that its deacons were Ike Story, William Laws and Charlie Laws. We think this conclusion is supported by the preponderance of the evidence. The burden of convincing this Court of error in the finding of a Circuit Judge is upon the appellants. Boatwright v. Crosby, 83 S.C. 190, 65 S.E. 174; Watson v. Wall, 239 S.C. 109, 121 S.E.2d 427. The appellants have not met that burden.

It does not appear that a conveyance of the property in question was ever authorized by the congregation of Laws Chapel. The testimony of the respondents is that there was no such authorization. Reverend Snow...

To continue reading

Request your trial
1 practice notes
  • Gantt v. Van der Hoek, No. 18806
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 8 Julio 1968
    ...the evidence and make findings in accordance with our view of the preponderance or greater weight of the evidence. Dunn v. Miller, 247 S.C. 567, 148 S.E.2d The trial judge held that the statement signed by Gantt was ambiguous. However, assuming the correctness of such a determination, the e......
1 cases
  • Gantt v. Van der Hoek, No. 18806
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 8 Julio 1968
    ...the evidence and make findings in accordance with our view of the preponderance or greater weight of the evidence. Dunn v. Miller, 247 S.C. 567, 148 S.E.2d The trial judge held that the statement signed by Gantt was ambiguous. However, assuming the correctness of such a determination, the e......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT