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Werst v. Three Fires Council of the Boy Scouts of America

March 01, 2004

WILLIAM WERST, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE,
v.
THREE FIRES COUNCIL OF THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA AND THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES AND CROSS-APPELLANTS (CORNERSTONE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH AND BRUCE NELSON, D/B/A B&G TRAIN WORLD, PLAINTIFFS; SUZETTE HEINZE, LAWRENCE HARRINGTON, DAVID CLARK, DANIEL DEBRUYCKER, AND JOHN KEMPER, DEFENDANTS).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 98-CH-419 Honorable Patrick J. Dixon, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Callum

PUBLISHED

Plaintiff, William Werst, sued defendants, Three Fires Council of the Boy Scouts of America (the Council) and the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), seeking, inter alia, a declaratory judgment (735 ILCS 5/2--701 (West 2002)) that the revocation of Werst's BSA membership was inconsistent with the organization's rules. In another count of Werst's 10-count amended complaint, Werst sought a writ of mandamus ordering defendants to reinstate his membership. Following a bench trial on these two counts, the trial court ruled in favor of Werst on his declaratory judgment count and in favor of the Council and BSA on the mandamus count. The court denied Werst's posttrial motion seeking reinstatement of his BSA membership. Werst appeals the trial court's denial of the relief he sought in his posttrial motion. The Council and BSA cross-appeal the court's order on the declaratory judgment count. We reverse and remand the cross-appeal, and we do not reach Werst's issue.

I. BACKGROUND

Werst, an insurance producer, became associated with scouting in 1954. He was a Boy Scouts volunteer from 1979 through March 10, 1997, when his BSA membership was revoked. Werst served in various volunteer positions, including troop committee chairman, district chairman, district vice chairman, and Explorer Post adviser for Post 9911 (the Post). Werst testified that, prior to his membership revocation, he had never been disciplined by the Boy Scouts.

Werst was a founding member of the Post, which was chartered in February 1994. Its founding members included, among others, Harold Gregory Meyer. Initially, Werst served as Post adviser and Meyer served as an assistant adviser.

In 1994, Meyer, an attorney, was indicted for matters involving fraudulent financial transactions. Werst found out about the indictment and scheduled a Post meeting to discuss Meyer. The Post committee voted to revoke Meyer's membership, but it permitted him to attend Post activities with his son, who was a Post member. Werst testified that BSA rules, as set forth in the Explorer Post Handbook, state that parents are permitted to attend scouting activities with their children.

Werst testified that, between 1995 and 1996, he had one discussion with Lawrence Harrington, Council vice-president, about Meyer's involvement with the scouts. According to Werst, Harrington was concerned that Meyer was participating in Post activities. Werst responded that he had not received any orders from the Council addressing Meyer and told Harrington that Meyer was no longer a member. Harrington informed Werst that Meyer had been convicted. Werst subsequently discovered that Meyer had pleaded guilty to felony theft in January 1997.

In 1995 and 1996, the Post participated in model railroad shows at Harper College in Palatine. Meyer assisted the Post in setting up and tearing down its displays. Werst testified that Meyer also may have been present at a meeting at which youth members were present, but he was not working with the youth as leaders do. In February 1997, the Post sponsored Rail-O-Rama, a model railroad show, at Spring Hill Mall. Meyer assisted members in setting up and breaking down their displays. Before the event, Meyers was featured in a published newspaper article about the show.

On March 11, 1997, Werst received a letter from Daniel DeBruycker, Council commissioner, notifying him that his BSA membership had been revoked. Werst testified that between January 1997 and March 10, 1997, he was not advised of any charges pending against him that would result in revocation of his scout membership. According to Werst, he had only one conversation with Harrington about Meyer's indictment before revocation of Werst's membership. Werst further testified that DeBruycker's letter did not state any facts upon which Werst's membership was revoked, nor did it refer to any rules he allegedly violated.

On March 13, 1997, Werst spoke with Harrington about the revocation. Harrington indicated that he would inquire about it, but thought that it was related to Meyer's conviction. About one week later, Werst again spoke to Harrington. Harrington stated that he had visited the Council office and found out that Werst's membership had been revoked because Meyer had been attending Post activities. Harrington informed Werst that, notwithstanding anything the Post committee had decided, Meyer could not be involved in scouting. Werst testified that he never received in writing an explanation as to why his membership was revoked. He also testified that he elected to ignore Harrington's instructions because, in the scouting organization, not all statements could be believed.

Werst appealed his revocation to the regional BSA office. In a letter dated June 24, 1997, John Kemper, assistant regional director of the central region of the BSA, notified Werst that the regional standards-of-leadership committee decided to uphold the Council's revocation of his membership. Werst appealed to the national council, and, on May 21, 1998, that committee upheld the Council's action.

John Jones, one of the founding members of the Post, testified that, during the Post meeting to discuss Meyer's status, Werst did not inform the committee of his conversation with Harrington. At the meeting, Jones did not know that Meyer's membership had been revoked or that Meyer had been directed to sever all of his relations with the BSA. Jones further testified that, had he known that the Council office instructed Meyer not to participate in Post programs when youth members were present, he would have followed that instruction. According to Jones, during 1995 and 1996, Meyer attended between four to six Post meetings when youth members were present. Since the Post meeting to discuss Meyer, the committee had not received any information in writing from the Council addressing Meyer's participation in scouting.

Harrington testified for defendants as follows. Harrington, a retired railroader who has been involved in scouting since 1961, is a member of the executive board of the Council and serves on several committees. In 1995 and 1996, he was Council vice-president and, in 1997, served as a member of the Council's standards-of-membership committee. Harrington was a member of the committee that revoked Meyer's membership.

At a 1995 model railroad event at Harper College, Harrington saw Meyer assisting with the setup of the Post's modular railroad units. Harrington told Werst that Meyer could not participate when youth were present. Harrington testified that Werst did not respond. At the 1996 Harper College event, Harrington again observed Meyer setting up a Post display and told Werst that Meyer should not be present when youth members are present. On another occasion at Werst's office, Harrington observed Meyer working on a railroad layout when youth members were present. Harrington mentioned to Werst that Meyer was present. Harrington did not say more, he explained, because Werst knew Harrington's position. Werst did not respond. At the Rail-O-Rama event in February 1997, Harrington observed Meyer working at the modular units and talking to the scouts. He also observed Meyer standing at a podium fielding questions from the public.

Harrington testified that he never ordered Werst to bar Meyer from attending scout functions because he did not have authority to do so. He stated that the BSA expects its adult leaders to exercise good judgment and that Werst did not exercise good judgment in permitting Meyer to participate in Post activities. However, Harrington could not identify any BSA rule that Werst violated.

DeBruycker was Council commissioner in 1997 and a member of the standards-of-membership committee. He testified that the committee held two meetings to discuss Werst's membership, one in late 1996 and one in early 1997. Present at the meetings were Jim Burner, Harrington, Dennis Cook, and DeBruycker. The committee decided to revoke Werst's membership and sent a letter, signed by DeBruycker, to Werst informing him of its action and setting forth his appeal rights. According to DeBruycker, Werst exercised poor judgment in permitting Meyer to participate in Post activities.

Cook, scout executive of the Council, is responsible for the daily operations of the Council, a position he held in 1996 and 1997. Cook testified that, in 1997, Harrington informed him that, on several occasions, he had advised Werst that Meyer was not to take part in Post programs. Following the Rail-O-Rama event, Cook convened a meeting of the standards-of-membership committee. The committee considered as evidence the newspaper article featuring Meyer and memos from Harrington and other scout employees. The committee members decided to revoke Werst's membership. The letter sent to Werst informing him of the committee's decision did not state the reason for the revocation. Cook testified that scout procedures do not require an explanation. He further explained that the committee contemplated other remedies, including increased supervision, additional training, probation, and temporary suspension. Furthermore, the committee discussed Werst's membership with several individuals at the BSA national office. To maintain Werst's privacy, Post youth members were not interviewed when the committee reviewed his membership.

Between March and June 1997, Cook wrote seven letters about Werst to the BSA's central region standards-of-membership committee. In a letter dated March 20, 1997, Cook wrote that Werst had permitted Meyer to participate in scouting activities in defiance of BSA policies and standards. He also stated that Werst and Meyer "have been involved in efforts to disrupt district and council programs for over three years after the district chairman dismissed them for their lack of cooperation." Cook explained that Werst was concerned only "with his own agenda" and did not represent the image of a positive role model. Cook further suggested that it was "very important that [Werst's] suspension not be overturned" and, if it was reversed, then Werst "will see that action as a validation of his attacks and will renew his destructive efforts."

In letters addressed to Kemper, dated April 29, and June 5, 1997, Cook wrote that Werst's revocation was not an attempt to remove a "disgruntled volunteer" but rather to remove one who, after over two years of repeated warnings, intentionally disregarded BSA policy. Nevertheless, Cook explained that Werst had disrupted the scouting community over the past three years by running separate roundtables and district committee meetings, and submitting his own slate of officers at three district annual meetings. In other letters, Cook wrote that Werst continued to disrupt ...


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