Singh v. Singh

Decision Date20 January 2004
Docket NumberNo. A100705.,A100705.
Citation114 Cal.App.4th 1264,9 Cal.Rptr.3d 4
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesAla SINGH et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. Gurdial SINGH et al., Defendants and Appellants.

Appeal from the Superior Court of Alameda County, No. 02-046093, Julia Spain, J Law Offices of Walter W. Whelan, Walter W. Whelan, Fresno, Berliner Cohen, John F. Domingue, Thomas P. Murphy, San Jose, for Defendants and Appellants Gurdial Singh et al.

Law Offices of Walter W. Whelan, Walter W. Whelan, Fresno, Berliner Cohen, John F. Domingue, Thomas P. Murphy, San Jose, for Defendants and Appellants Gurdial Singh et al. as Amici Curiae.

Cooper, White & Cooper, Stephen D. Kaus, Merrit M. Jones, San Francisco, Law Office of Mark Cohen, Mark Cohen, Fremont, for Plaintiffs and Respondents Ala Singh et al.

Taylor & Goins, N. Maxwell Njelita, for Plaintiffs and Respondents Ala Singh et al. as Amici Curiae.

LAMBDEN, J.

The Sikh Temple-San Francisco Bay Area, Inc. (the Sikh Temple)1 and its current board of directors (also referred to as the Supreme Council or Panj Pyaras),2 Gurdial Singh, Harjot Singh, Amarjit Singh, Gurdev Singh, and Mota Singh, challenge a judgment following a bench trial. The Sikh Temple members Ala Singh, Karnail Singh, Ram Singh, Sukhdev Singh, Harjinder Singh, Joginder Singh, and Gurmeet Singh (collectively respondents or plaintiffs) sued the Sikh Temple and its current board of directors (collectively appellants or defendants) because they alleged that the board of directors or Supreme Council remained in office in violation of Corporations Code section 9220, subdivision (b).3 The trial court found, among other things, that the Temple's bylaws do not specify a life term for the Supreme Council and section 9220 therefore applies, creating a term of one year. Appellants challenge this ruling, contending that a prior judgment involving them as the defendants should have been given collateral estoppel effect; the ruling violates their First Amendment rights; the ruling represents an unconstitutional entanglement with religion; and the bylaws were not silent regarding the term of office for the Supreme Council. We are unpersuaded by their arguments and uphold the lower court.

BACKGROUND

The Sikh Temple was incorporated as a nonprofit religious corporation in 1977. Its articles of incorporation provide that the bylaws shall specify the qualifications for members, voting rights, and other privileges of membership. The current bylaws were adopted in 1987.

Article II of the bylaws provides that the general membership shall select and appoint the Supreme Council, or Panj Pyaras. Article II reads: "The principles and practices of the Gurdwara Management will be those espoused by Sikh faith and Gurmat tradition. The institution of Panj Pyaras (five beloved ones) will be revived in order to provide the guidelines for day-to-day functions of the Gurdwara. The Panj Pyaras (five beloved ones) will be selected and appointed by Sadh Sangat or membership of the Gurdwara Sahib [Sikh Temple]. If any of the Panj Pyaras is found unfit for his position, another Panj Pyara shall be selected by the General Body to fill up the vacancy. In the meantime, the Head Priest of the Gurdawara [sic]Sahib shall perform the duties of a Panj Pyara."

Article IV concerns the dismissal of a member of the Supreme Council. It specifies that a member of the Supreme Council can be dismissed for breaking the Sikh code of conduct, as prescribed in Rehatnamas; for breaking the Sikh rule of objectivity by indulging in petty politics of factionalism and name calling; and for being unable to get along with the Supreme Council. Article V sets forth the procedures for selecting the Executive Committee or Parbandhak Committee, which oversees daily management of the Sikh Temple. It provides in relevant part: "The Parbandhak Committee shall consist of eleven members. The Supreme Council will ask for the names of Sewadars from the Sadh Sangat [general membership] every now and then depending upon the availability of vacancy on the Parbandhak Committee. The Supreme Council will ask the Sadh Sangat for nominations. The term of the Parbandhak Committee shall be for a period of two years. A Parbandhak can stay on the Executive Committee for a maximum period of four years...."

Article XVI provides in relevant part that any amendment to the bylaws must "be first presented to the Supreme Council of Panj Pyaras in the form of a petition, identifying major gaps or shortcomings according to Sikh tradition (Rahatmaryada). The Panj Pyaras should examine the petition carefully and submit their recommendations to the General Body of Gurdwara membership. The 3/4 majority of the Sikh membership in General Body can endorse the amendment and the Constitution can be changed accordingly."

In 1988, pursuant to the newly adopted bylaws, the congregation nominated and elected five individuals to serve on the Supreme Council.4 In 1991, four of the five members of the Supreme Council resigned. The congregation nominated and elected four new individuals. In 1993, all five members of the Supreme Council resigned and, subsequently, the congregation nominated and elected five new members.

In August 1996, a lawsuit was filed, Dhami v. Tut (Alameda County Superior Court, 1996, No. H-1921025). The plaintiffs sought, among other things, to remove three members of the Supreme Council, declare an earlier election valid or in the alternative order a new election, appoint a receiver, and determine the rights of the parties pursuant to section 9220. This case settled when the parties agreed to a court-supervised election of the Supreme Council. That election occurred on December 22, 1996, and resulted in the election of five Supreme Council members, including Gurdial Singh, Jarjot Singh, Amarjit Singh, and Gurdev Singh, who are appellants in the action before us.

In 1999, one member of the Supreme Council was involuntarily removed pursuant to Article IV of the bylaws. Mota Singh, an appellant in this action, was nominated and selected as a replacement by the congregation. Other than the filling of this vacancy, no elections for Supreme Council were held between December 22, 1996 and March 31, 2002.

In December 1998, a second lawsuit, Dhami v. Singh (Alameda County Superior Court, 1998, No. H-204698-5), was filed.5 The complaint was for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and a receivership. The plaintiffs alleged that pursuant to section 7710 their action was derivative. They complained that there was an unlawful cancellation of a general election scheduled for December 20, 1998, by the defendants named in that case and the assumption of office by a new board of directors on December 6, 1998, without the benefit of an election. In their first cause of action for declaratory relief, they asserted that the defendants had violated the bylaws by refusing to permit the calling of the congregation to elect members of the Supreme Council and members of the Executive Committee or Management Committee. In the second cause of action, they requested the removal of these directors and officers. In their third cause of action, they alleged that the defendants had been in office for more than 12 consecutive months in violation of section 9220. They also alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress and requested injunctive relief and a receivership.

Dhami v. Singh proceeded to a court trial in February 1999, the Honorable John Burke, presiding. The court ruled in favor of the defendants on the first cause of action. Defendants' counsel requested an order reflecting that the first cause of action had been bifurcated for final adjudication "without dealing with the other issues." The court responded that it had ruled for the defense on the first cause of action. As to the second, the removal of directors and officer for breach of the bylaws, the court stated that it was also ruling for the defense on that action. The court continued: "The third cause of action was declaratory relief and injunctive relief in violation of Corporations Code [section] 9220, and I rule for the defense in that. [¶] The fourth cause of action is for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court makes no ruling and took no evidence on [this]. [¶] The fifth cause of action is for the injunctive relief for harassing and annoying and threatening, and the Court rules for the defense in that." The court also ruled for the defense on the sixth cause of action. The fourth cause of action was bifurcated for trial and eventually dismissed.

Following this trial, a general body meeting for March 31, 2002, was called by appellants upon verbal notice given to those in attendance at the Sikh Temple meetings on the two Sundays prior to March 31.6 The verbal notice of the general body meeting did not state an election would be held or that removal of the Supreme Council would be sought.

Respondents submitted a written request to address the congregation at the March 31 meeting. Appellants wrote a letter back to them explaining that they deemed the request to address the congregation as a request to advocate for bylaw amendments and that no vote would take place because they had not followed the procedure set forth in Article XVI.

At the meeting of March 31, 2002, respondent Ram Singh addressed the congregation with the concern that the Supreme Council had been in office since 1996 and no elections had been held. He stated that an election should take place. Respondent Gurmeet Singh also addressed the congregation and he told the congregation that it had complete authority to form or to dissolve the Supreme Council. He then proceeded with the following three proclamations: The congregation has decided that every four years there should be elections for the Supreme Council; the present Supreme Council and Executive Committee...

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