Georgia Supreme Court Awards Christ Church to Diocese on Implied Trust Theory

The Supreme Court of Georgia, in a 45-page decision which no doubt was lengthened by having to respond to a 96-page dissent, has decided the appeal of Christ Church, Savannah against the majority which voted to leave ECUSA and the Diocese of Georgia in 2007, and to award the property (four parcels, the first and principal one of which was granted to the local parish by the colonial authorities in 1758) to the minority who chose to remain in ECUSA.

The majority opinion goes to great lengths to justify its finding that the property of Christ Church was impressed with an implied trust in favor of the Diocese and the national Church through the parish's acquiescence in the national Church's Constitution and Canons over the years, as exhibited by their reaffirmation of those documents in 1981, when they received a new State charter. The dissent offers a treatise on why that cannot be the case, especially given that the national Church did not express its trust on church properties via an amendment to its Constitution, as Jones v. Wolf held (in dictum) it could do, but through a simple amendment to its Canons.

At the same time, and in a 4-3 split, the same Court, in an opinion authored by the same Justice (Nahmias), reversed the decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals that the Timberridge Presbyterian Church had successfully prevented, by its resistance to, and "opting out" of, its national Church's trust provision, the imposition of a trust on its property. (I had criticized the inconsistency between the two opinions of the Court of Appeals in this earlier post.)

With hundreds of pages of legal opinions to digest, I cannot present more than these brief observations at this point. In due course, I will put up a longer treatment of these two important decisions.

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