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11/12/87 Sasho v. Aglikin Et Al.

November 12, 1987

SASHO

v.

AGLIKIN ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

CHRIST C. KOVACHEFF ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FIRST DISTRICT, FOURTH DIVISION

516 N.E.2d 704, 163 Ill. App. 3d 426, 114 Ill. Dec. 549 1987.IL.1671

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Harold Siegan, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

PRESIDING JUSTICE McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court. JOHNSON, J., concurs. JUSTICE JIGANTI, Dissenting.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE MCMORROW

This appeal involves a dispute between members of a local church. The dispute arose when the regional diocese dismissed certain church members from their positions on the local church's board of trustees and appointed other church members to a commission to govern the local church. The regional diocese then ordered the former board members to deliver the church's assets and records to the newly appointed commission members. When the former board members refused, the newly appointed commission members filed an action for permanent injunctive and declaratory relief. Following cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court ordered the local church's property and records turned over to the commission appointed by the regional diocese. It further ordered that the local church was "governed by the dictates" of the regional diocese. The former board members appeal. We reverse and remand.

Background

Plaintiffs are members of a commission of the St. Sophia Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Chicago (St. Sophia). They were appointed to these positions by the Diocesan Mixed Counsel of the American-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of Akron, Ohio (the diocese), which includes Chicago and St. Sophia.

Defendants are the former president, secretary, and treasurer of St. Sophia's board of trustees. The diocese dismissed these former board members for reasons not pertinent here, and appointed the commission members to replace them. The diocese also ordered the former board members to deliver to the commission members all of St. Sophia's assets and records.

When the former board members refused to comply with the diocese's directions, the commission members appointed by the diocese filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County. As ultimately amended, the pleading sought a permanent mandatory injunction ordering the former board members to deliver St. Sophia's assets and records to the commission members. It also requested a declaration that St. Sophia, as an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, controls its records and assets, and that it is governed by the "dictates" of the regional diocese.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment supported by documents and affidavits indicating the following information. St. Sophia was organized in 1938 and incorporated in 1946. Its articles of incorporation state that the church "administratively and canonically, is [an] inseparable organic part of the Bulgarian Eparchy in America and remains under its jurisdiction."

Regional diocese control over the board of a local church is provided for in the synod bylaws of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church of Sophia, Bulgaria, dated 1951. These synod bylaws state that a regional diocese may dismiss local church board members, if they do not "perform devotedly and [conscientiously] their duties," and appoint a commission to govern the local church. However, the synod bylaws also provide that the "organization and administration" of the American regional diocese is to be determined according to a special synodical order sanctioned by the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. No such order appears in the record before us.

The regional diocese was formed in 1969. Its bylaws state that each local church shall have "absolute control and titles [to] real estate and personal properties" and that the board of trustees of each local church administrates each parish. Although the diocesan bylaws state that the names of board members must be sent to the bishop of the diocese for "his blessing," they do not provide for any diocesan control of the board while it is in office.

The affidavit of the former president of St. Sophia's board of trustees, submitted by the former board members, indicated that in 1950, a representative of the Bulgarian Synod invited the local Bulgarian Orthodox Churches then existing in the United States to meet with him in New York for the purpose of forming an American diocese. Administrative independence was a central concern of the churches in attendance. The representatives of the local churches who remained at the 11-day meeting expressly reserved the right of their churches to administrative independence. According to the former board president's affidavit, that administrative independence of the local churches still continues.

The commission members submitted the affidavit of a member of the commission. He alleged in his affidavit that he attended a meeting at St. Sophia in 1974 in which the former board members, as well as other members of St. Sophia, participated. At the meeting it was the "firm understanding and agreement" of the majority to "firmly associate" St. Sophia with the Bulgarian Synod in Sophia, Bulgaria, and to be bound by its constitution and bylaws. Also, St. ...


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