Cases & Deals

Classis of Central California achieves landmark California Court of Appeal victory

Clients Classis of Central California, Reformed Church in America

In March 2007, Jones Day, on behalf of client Classis of Central California, a religious corporation that functions as a regional judicatory within the hierarchy of the Reformed Church in America ("RCA"), the oldest Protestant denomination in the United States, sued Miraloma Community Church and its deposed leadership to prevent them from terminating Miraloma Church's seventy-year membership in the RCA and transferring millions of dollars of church property out of the denomination. By then, the church had shrunk in size to the point where it could no longer muster a quorum of members to conduct business. In its bylaws, Miraloma Church had promised to secure the written consent of the Classis before terminating its affiliation with the RCA. The church failed to do so and further violated notice and quorum requirements when it attempted to annul its own bylaws to disaffiliate from the RCA. Before Miraloma's attempted disaffiliation, the Classis had begun the process of removing and replacing Miraloma's directors through a "supersedure" process expressly authorized by the RCA Constitution.

When the deposed directors refused to surrender their positions or the church property, the Classis obtained a preliminary injunction preventing the deposed directors from wasting or transferring Miraloma's property or taking it out of the denomination during the pendency of the case. After defeating two demurrers and two anti-SLAPP motions, the Classis won summary adjudication of its declaratory relief and permanent injunction claims, both of which required the deposed directors to surrender their positions and the church property to the Classis's lawful authority. In granting summary adjudication on July 16, 2008, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter J. Busch ruled that Miraloma could not terminate its affiliation with the RCA without the Classis's consent, and that the Classis had the exclusive right to control Miraloma's affairs and property through its slate of appointed directors.

Defendants appealed the injunction ruling, but in a signed, published opinion, Justice Timothy A. Reardon, writing for a unanimous Division Four panel of the First District Court of Appeal, affirmed Judge Busch's ruling in full, and held that as a member church within the RCA, Miraloma could not do an "end run" around the RCA Constitution and Miraloma's own organizational documents to sever ties with the denomination. The court went on to rule that the Classis was authorized to, and properly did, supersede Miraloma's deposed directors. The published opinion, which is more than twenty pages long, is believed to be the most thorough judicial treatment of the polity and structure of the RCA in American decisional history. The California Supreme Court denied review of the Court of Appeal decision.

Classis of Central California v. Miraloma Community Church, et al., San Francisco Superior Court, Case No. CGC-07-461315