Johnson v. Antioch United Holy Church Inc., No. COA11–24.

Docket NºNo. COA11–24.
Citation714 S.E.2d 806
Case DateAugust 16, 2011
CourtCourt of Appeal of North Carolina (US)

714 S.E.2d 806

Rosie M. JOHNSON, Irene Wallace, individually and ex. rel., Plaintiffs,
v.
ANTIOCH UNITED HOLY CHURCH, INC., Henrietta McGlenn, Dianne Artis, and Larry Hankins, Sr., Defendants.

No. COA11–24.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina.

Aug. 16, 2011.


[714 S.E.2d 808]

Appeal by Plaintiffs from Order entered 20 September 2010 by Judge Arnold O. Jones in Pender County Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 25 May 2011.

Charles M. Tighe, Wilmington, for Plaintiffs-appellant.

Erma L. Johnson, Wilmington, for Defendants-appellee.

HUNTER, JR., ROBERT N., Judge.

Rosie M. Johnson, Irene Wallace, and Antioch United Holy Church, Inc. (“Antioch”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”), appeal from the trial court's 20 September 2010 Order dismissing their claims, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, against Henrietta McGlenn, Dianne Artis, Larry Hankins, Sr. and Antioch (collectively “Defendants”). In its Order, the trial court also granted Defendants' Motion for Rule 11 Sanctions. Plaintiffs argue the trial court erred in concluding that resolution of Plaintiffs' claims required the court to address ecclesiastical matters in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs further argue the trial court erred in awarding Defendants reasonable attorneys' fees upon concluding there was no legal or factual basis for Plaintiffs' claims. We reverse the trial court's Order.

I. Facts & Procedural History

Antioch is a small congregational church of approximately 40 members located in Rocky Point, North Carolina. Antioch was incorporated under the North Carolina Nonprofit Corporation Act in 1998. Plaintiffs Johnson and Wallace were incorporators of Antioch. At the organizational meeting of the original Board of Directors in March 1999, Defendant Henrietta McGlenn was appointed President and Plaintiff Wallace was appointed Treasurer of Antioch. Defendant Hankins now serves as Antioch's Treasurer.

At the time of its incorporation, Antioch did not have a permanent place of worship or business. In May 1999, Wallace deeded .94 acres of land to Antioch as a building site for the church's sanctuary and offices. Additionally, in 2001, Wallace donated $150,000 for the construction of the church's physical facilities and served, without compensation, as the Building Coordinator for several months of that year.

Although the record is unclear as to the events that occurred in the intervening years, Defendants assert that Plaintiffs have filed three previous lawsuits against Antioch and McGlenn since 2008. Plaintiffs commenced this action against Defendants on 14 June 2010 alleging a number of violations of the North Carolina Nonprofit Corporation Act and intentional infliction of emotional distress upon Wallace.

In the Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that for a number of years Antioch has not had a duly elected board of directors and that the corporate powers of the church have been exercised by Defendants McGlenn, Artis, and Hankins, in violation of Antioch's bylaws. Plaintiffs allege Defendants have failed to maintain audited financial statements as required by Antioch's bylaws. Additionally, Plaintiffs allege Antioch is in violation of the North Carolina Nonprofit Corporation Act in that it does not keep permanent records of the meetings of its members or of its board of directors; does not keep a record of its members; and does not maintain appropriate

[714 S.E.2d 809]

accounting records, as required by N.C. Gen.Stat. § 55A–16–01.

The Complaint additionally alleges that McGlenn, Artis, Hankins, and others at Antioch have wasted Antioch property and caused Antioch to engage in transactions prohibited by the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. § 503(b). Plaintiffs allege these actions have put Antioch's tax-exempt status in jeopardy, and have thereby put Wallace, Johnson, and other members of Antioch at risk of having to pay federal and state income taxes for funds received by Antioch.

As for the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the Complaint alleges McGlenn wrote and delivered a letter to Wallace as notice of the “removal of her name” as a member of Antioch. Plaintiffs allege this was done without the authority of Antioch, or a duly recorded vote of its members, in violation of N.C. Gen.Stat. § 55A–6–31. Plaintiffs further allege McGlenn delivered this letter to Wallace “with the intent to vex, intimidate and harm Wallace without justification,” and that McGlenn's conduct in doing so was “outrageous,” causing Wallace “severe emotional harm, humiliation and distress.”

Defendants did not answer Plaintiffs' Complaint and filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to N.C. Gen.Stat. § 1A–1, Rule 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and a Motion for Sanctions pursuant to N.C. Gen.Stat. § 1A–1, Rule 11.

Defendants' Motions came on for hearing on 23 August 2010 in Pender County Superior Court, Judge Arnold O. Jones presiding. During the hearing, Defendants made an oral motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to N.C. Gen.Stat. § 1A–1, Rule 12(b)(1). Defendants argued resolution of Plaintiffs' claims would require the trial court to resolve ecclesiastical matters, which is prohibited by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. As for their request for Rule 11 sanctions, Defendants argued Plaintiffs brought the claims solely for the purpose of harassment and that the claims are factually and legally insufficient. Subject matter jurisdiction and the propriety of sanctions were the only issues addressed during the hearing; no evidence related to Plaintiffs' claims was presented.

In its 20 September 2010 Order, the trial court concluded Plaintiffs' claims “involve[ ] an internal church governance dispute” and that the claims could not be resolved solely by neutral principals of law. The trial court concluded, inter alia, that “seeking a court's review of the matters in the Complaint is no different than asking a court to determine whether a particular church's grounds for membership are spiritually or doctrinally correct or whether a church's charitable pursuits accord with the congregation's beliefs.” The trial court further concluded there was “no legal or factual basis supporting the allegations asserted in this Complaint.” Consequently, the trial court granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and awarded Defendants attorneys' fees in the amount of $2,580.31. Plaintiffs gave timely notice of appeal from this Order.

II. Jurisdiction & Standard of Review

Jurisdiction in this Court is proper pursuant to N.C. Gen.Stat. § 7A–27 (b) (2009). A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is reviewed de novo pursuant to Rule 12 of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. Burgess v. Burgess, –––N.C.App. ––––, ––––, 698 S.E.2d 666, 668 (2010) (citing Harper v. City of Asheville, 160 N.C.App. 209, 215, 585 S.E.2d 240, 244 (2003)). “Under the de novo standard of review, this Court ‘considers the matter anew and freely substitutes its own judgment for that of the [trial court].’ ” Burgess, –––N.C.App. at ––––,...

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14 practice notes
  • Lippard v. Holleman, No. COA18-873
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • May 19, 2020
    ...at issue." Doe , 242 N.C. App. at 47, 776 S.E.2d at 34-35 (quoting Johnson v. Antioch United Holy Church, Inc. , 214 N.C. App. 507, 510, 714 S.E.2d 806, 810 (2011)).An ecclesiastical matter is one which concerns doctrine, creed, or form of worship of the church, or the adoption and enforcem......
  • Nation Ford Baptist Church Inc. v. Davis, COA20-800
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • October 5, 2021
    ...construe them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Johnson v. Antioch United Holy Church, Inc. , 214 N.C. App. 507, 510, 714 S.E.2d 806, 809 (2011) (citations omitted). ¶ 15 The trial court properly determined it had subject matter jurisdiction over Davis's claims. "The Firs......
  • Nation Ford Baptist Church Inc. v. Davis, COA20-800
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • October 5, 2021
    ...construe them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Johnson v. Antioch United Holy Church, Inc., 214 N.C.App. 507, 510, 714 S.E.2d 806, 809 (2011) (citations omitted). ¶ 15 The trial court properly determined it had subject matter jurisdiction over Davis's claims. "The First ......
  • Doe v. Diocese Raleigh, No. COA14–1396.
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • July 7, 2015
    ...and practice in order to resolve the matters at issue. Johnson v. Antioch United Holy 776 S.E.2d 35 Church, Inc., 214 N.C.App. 507, 510, 714 S.E.2d 806, 810 (2011) ; see W. Conference of Original Free Will Baptists of N.C. v. Creech, 256 N.C. 128, 140, 123 S.E.2d 619, 627 (1962) ("The legal......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • Lippard v. Holleman, No. COA18-873
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • May 19, 2020
    ...at issue." Doe , 242 N.C. App. at 47, 776 S.E.2d at 34-35 (quoting Johnson v. Antioch United Holy Church, Inc. , 214 N.C. App. 507, 510, 714 S.E.2d 806, 810 (2011)).An ecclesiastical matter is one which concerns doctrine, creed, or form of worship of the church, or the adoption and enforcem......
  • Nation Ford Baptist Church Inc. v. Davis, COA20-800
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • October 5, 2021
    ...construe them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Johnson v. Antioch United Holy Church, Inc. , 214 N.C. App. 507, 510, 714 S.E.2d 806, 809 (2011) (citations omitted). ¶ 15 The trial court properly determined it had subject matter jurisdiction over Davis's claims. "The Firs......
  • Nation Ford Baptist Church Inc. v. Davis, COA20-800
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • October 5, 2021
    ...construe them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Johnson v. Antioch United Holy Church, Inc., 214 N.C.App. 507, 510, 714 S.E.2d 806, 809 (2011) (citations omitted). ¶ 15 The trial court properly determined it had subject matter jurisdiction over Davis's claims. "The First ......
  • Doe v. Diocese Raleigh, No. COA14–1396.
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • July 7, 2015
    ...and practice in order to resolve the matters at issue. Johnson v. Antioch United Holy 776 S.E.2d 35 Church, Inc., 214 N.C.App. 507, 510, 714 S.E.2d 806, 810 (2011) ; see W. Conference of Original Free Will Baptists of N.C. v. Creech, 256 N.C. 128, 140, 123 S.E.2d 619, 627 (1962) ("The legal......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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