The Bible Speaks v. Dovydenas, Appeal No. 87-0124-F.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
Citation81 BR 750
Docket NumberAppeal No. 87-0124-F.
PartiesTHE BIBLE SPEAKS, Debtor-Appellant, v. Elizabeth DOVYDENAS, Claimant-Appellee.
Decision Date25 January 1988

81 B.R. 750 (1988)

THE BIBLE SPEAKS, Debtor-Appellant,
Elizabeth DOVYDENAS, Claimant-Appellee.

Appeal No. 87-0124-F.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts.

January 25, 1988.

81 BR 751
81 BR 752
Charles W. Morse, Barbara D. Gilmore, Sullivan & Worcester, Boston, Mass., Norman Roy Grutman, Jewel H. Grutman, Grutman, Miller, Greenspoon, New York City, for Bible Speaks

Gordon T. Walker, Eric R. Dannenmaier, McDermott, Will & Emery, Boston, Mass., for Dovydenas.


FREEDMAN, Chief Judge.


This is an appeal from a final order of the bankruptcy court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 158. This Court, having reviewed the entire record, accepts and adopts in full the bankruptcy court's findings of fact in In re The Bible Speaks, 73 B.R. 848 (Bankr.D. Mass.1987). Only those facts necessary for understanding the discussion of law are summarized below.


Elizabeth Dayton Dovydenas ("Elizabeth Dovydenas," "claimant") is a college graduate in her mid-thirties. The Bible Speaks ("TBS," "appellant," "debtor") is an evangelical fundamentalist church formerly located in Lenox, Massachusetts. The church's pastor, president, chief executive, and chief operating officer is Carl H. Stevens ("Stevens") who founded the church in 1973.

Elizabeth Dovydenas is an heir to a substantial fortune, with a net worth of $19 million, and is married to Jonas Dovydenas. In 1982, Elizabeth Dovydenas began attending services at TBS. She became increasingly involved in the church and became close friends with Stevens, his wife Barbara Baum Stevens, and a church employee Cathy Hill ("Hill"). Id. at 850.

By fall 1984, TBS and the Stevenses had become important parts of Elizabeth Dovydenas' life. The bankruptcy court found that during that time, "Stevens told her, in substance, on numerous occasions that: giving money to the church was her primary mission on earth; all she needed to live on was $1 million, and the rest should be given to the church; she should not be influenced by her husband, or her parents, sisters or advisors, because they have not been born again through the church and are therefore controlled by the Devil, and her money gave her power to release God's judgment in order to effect miracles." Id. at 851. The bankruptcy court also found that the claimant accepted and believed all of this. Id.

In November, 1984 Elizabeth Dovydenas gave her first large gift to the church. Stevens' wife Barbara suffered from severe migraine headaches and, based on what Stevens had told her about the power of her money, Elizabeth Dovydenas told Mr. and Mrs. Stevens that she heard "a message from God that she should give $1 million to the church in order to cure Mrs. Stevens' migraine headaches." Id. at 851. The Stevenses urged her to do so. Elizabeth Dovydenas then effected the transfer by contacting the family's financial advisor, Okabena Company ("Okabena"), located in Minneapolis. Okabena suggested that for tax purposes she not give the money in a lump sum. Jonas Dovydenas also counselled his wife against donating the money, but Stevens told her not to listen to her financial advisor or her husband since they were motivated by the devil. After receiving Elizabeth Dovydenas' gift, Stevens told her that his wife's migraines were cured. This reinforced Elizabeth Dovydenas' belief that, as the bankruptcy court stated, "she was a special person anointed by God to promote good through gifts of her money to the church." Id. at 852. Stevens hid

81 BR 753
from Elizabeth Dovydenas the fact that his wife continued to suffer from migraines and was hospitalized for treatment in January of 1985. Id.

In early April 1985, Elizabeth Dovydenas told Stevens that she heard another message from God telling her to give $5 million to the church. Stevens counselled her not to tell anyone, especially her husband. Soon after their conversation, Jonas and Elizabeth Dovydenas went to Florida on vacation. Mrs. Stevens called Elizabeth Dovydenas there on April 18 to inform her that one of the church's pastors, Benjamin Turkia, was being detained by border officials in Rumania. She asked Elizabeth Dovydenas to pray for him and told her "they are probably pulling out his fingernails right now." Id. at 852. Actually, Turkia had been released the day before and immediately sent word to his wife who was staying with a TBS employee in Lenox, Massachusetts while her husband was gone. On April 21, five days after Turkia's release, Elizabeth Dovydenas, still believing Turkia was in captivity, called Stevens to say she wanted to donate her $5 million immediately so as to release God's power on behalf of obtaining Turkia's release. Again, according to the finding of the bankruptcy court, Elizabeth Dovydenas believed that she had the power from God to obtain Turkia's release by giving money to TBS. Stevens, who knew Turkia had already been released, told her: "Good. Get a jump on the Devil." Id. at 852. Elizabeth Dovydenas learned on her return that Turkia was free and she was encouraged by Stevens, Mrs. Stevens, and Hill to think that it was her pledge which freed him.

The events which followed constituted an elaborate effort on Stevens' part that no one dissuade Elizabeth Dovydenas from giving her $5 million gift. The bankruptcy court found that Stevens told her to write a letter stating her gift was voluntary and later on April 28, Hill dictated the letter to Elizabeth Dovydenas. Id. at 853. He told her not to tell her husband about the gift. He also told her to rent a post office box so her husband would not see the mail from Okabena, and he coached her to be aggressive in talking to Okabena. Later, after learning of his daughter's prospective gift, Dovydenas' father telephoned her to dissuade her from carrying out her plan. Id. Stevens told her to lie to her father and arranged for her husband to be taken out to dinner so that he would not overhear the conversation between Elizabeth Dovydenas and her father. Id. Finally, after the $5 million gift was executed, Stevens began a program which resulted in Elizabeth Dovydenas transferring her assets to a broker loyal to TBS, firing her lawyer, and drafting a new will with TBS' own lawyer which left substantially all her wealth to the church at the expense of her husband and children. Seven individuals associated with the church were made executors and Hill was made guardian of Elizabeth Dovydenas' children in the event Elizabeth Dovydenas' husband predeceased her. Id. at 854-55.

Following the $5 million gift, a number of other gifts were made in relatively small amounts. One gift was given according to a plan orchestrated by Stevens in which Stevens told Elizabeth Dovydenas to make out a cashier's check for $500,000 and then deliver it to Hill with a typed unsigned note. After that, Elizabeth Dovydenas made gifts of $14,000 in July 1985, $50,000 in September 1985, $10,000 in October 1985, and $4,000 and $2,000 in November of 1985. She also personally gave Stevens $10,000 in cash in November 1985. Id. at 856.

In December 1985 Elizabeth Dovydenas' family, alarmed by the changes in her personality, invited her to Minnesota. When she arrived, her family arranged for her to meet with two exit counselors who "spoke to her about the psychological aspects of organizational membership." Id. at 857. After a few weeks, Elizabeth Dovydenas "gradually came to her senses about Stevens." Id. at 857. She consented to a temporary conservatorship, made a new will leaving her estate to her husband and children, and returned to Lenox.


TBS brought suit in Berkshire Superior Court against Elizabeth Dovydenas on

81 BR 754
April 14, 1986 seeking a declaratory judgment that it did not owe her any debt or liability and that it did not have to return funds transferred by her. This suit was dismissed on June 13, 1986. The Massachusetts Appeals Court dismissal was affirmed on April 8, 1987

Elizabeth Dovydenas then brought suit on June 19, 1986 in Berkshire Superior Court against TBS. She sought rescission of gifts made by her between December 1984 and December 1985 because of undue influence and fraud. After its motion to dismiss was denied on July 15, 1986, TBS sought protection of the bankruptcy court filing for Chapter 11 reorganization on July 29, 1986. Its petition, which stayed the state court action, stated that Elizabeth Dovydenas' claim against it was a core proceeding. Elizabeth Dovydenas then filed a proof of claim with the bankruptcy court on October 31, 1986. The three-week trial on the merits began on March 30, 1987 and ended on April 16, 1987. The bankruptcy court issued its final order on May 19, 1987. By assuming jurisdiction of TBS over the claimant's objection, the bankruptcy court entered into the process of administering TBS' estate while it reorganized under Chapter 11. The matter is now before this Court on appeal from the bankruptcy court's final order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 158.


This action is a claim by Elizabeth Dovydenas against TBS for the $6,581,356.25 which she states she gave while a victim of undue influence. Although one of the parties to this action is a church, and the other a former member of a church, the dispute is purely secular. For reasons which will be detailed below, this Court has made no inquiry into the validity of the debtor's religious doctrine. Nor is this an action by a disgruntled member of a religious sect claiming that she was induced to join a false religion. See Molko v. Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 179 Cal.App.3d 450, 224 Cal. Rptr. 817 (1986), re-reported Molko v. Association, (1986, 1st Dist.) 188 Cal.App.3d 49, review granted, (court cannot assess reasonableness of church's belief in order to adjudicate claim by former members that they were manipulated to accept church's beliefs). Rather, despite appellant's attempts to make it seem...

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