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Aldrich v. Nelson

Supreme Court of Nebraska

February 20, 2015

DEBRA ALDRICH ET AL., ON BEHALF OF BETHEL LUTHERAN CHURCH, APPELLANTS,
v.
CLARKE NELSON ET AL., ON BEHALF OF BETHEL LUTHERAN CHURCH AND BETHEL EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH FOUNDATION OF HOLDREGE, NEBRASKA, INC., APPELLEES

Page 538

Appeal fro the District Court for Phelps County: TERRI S. HARDER, Judge.

REVERSED AND REMANDED FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS.

Robert A. Mooney, Frederick D. Stehlik, William L. Biggs, and Abbie M. Schurman, of Gross & Welch, P.C., L.L.O., for appellants.

Scott E. Daniel, of Gettman & Mills, L.L.P., and Kurth A. Brashear, of Brashear, L.L.P., for appellees.

HEAVICAN, C.J., WRIGHT, CONNOLLY, MCCORMACK, MILLER-LERMAN, and CASSEL, JJ. STEPHAN, J., not participating.

OPINION

Page 539

[290 Neb. 168] Heavican, C.J.

INTRODUCTION

Debra Aldrich and some of her fellow parishioners (Minority Members) at Bethel Lutheran Church (Bethel) brought this action on behalf of Bethel against other members (Majority Members) of Bethel. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Minority Members appeal. We reverse, and remand for further proceedings.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This case involves an intrachurch dispute between the members of Bethel, a nonprofit corporation organized under Nebraska law. Prior to January 17, 2011, Bethel, which is located in Holdrege, Nebraska, was affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). It appears that on May 23 and August 22, 2010, the Bethel congregation voted by at least a two-thirds majority vote to disaffiliate from the ELCA and instead sought to affiliate with the Lutheran Congregation in Mission for Christ (LCMC), although information regarding the vote is not explicitly included in the record. The Majority Members appeared before the ELCA's synod council and sought the termination of their ELCA affiliation, but that termination was not granted.

Subsequently, and despite the decision by the synod council, the Majority Members affiliated with the LCMC and employed a non-ELCA pastor. In addition, Bethel's governing documents were amended, including Bethel's constitution.

Following a demand on the Majority Members, the Minority Members filed suit seeking declaratory judgment, an accounting, and an injunction against the dissipation of assets. In its amended complaint, the Minority Members sought declarations that (1) Bethel was a member of the ELCA; (2) Bethel continued to be governed by its own constitution and bylaws and by the constitution, bylaws, and continuing resolutions [290 Neb. 169] of the ELCA; (3) the Majority Members violated the Bethel constitution and bylaws when it created a membership relationship with the LCMC; (4) as an ELCA church, Bethel may not be dually affiliated with the LCMC; (5) as an ELCA church, Bethel may not be ministered by a non-ELCA pastor; (6) the Majority Members have ...


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