BY THE COURT
acquiescence doctrine establishes that parties who
voluntarily accept the benefit or burden of a judgment lose
their right to appeal.
Parties waive their right to appeal if their actions clearly
and unmistakably show an inconsistent course of conduct or an
unconditional, voluntary, and absolute acquiescence. However,
a waiver is not implied from measures that parties take to
protect their rights following the entry of judgment.
First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section
7 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights prohibit the
government from interfering with a person's right to
freely exercise his or her religious beliefs. In addition,
the government is prohibited from compelling a person to
support a particular religion or form of worship.
First Amendment allows hierarchical religious organizations
or denominations to establish their own rules and regulations
for internal governance and to create tribunals for
adjudicating disputes that arise within the organization.
Where a local congregation voluntarily affiliates with a
hierarchical religious organization or denomination in
accordance with the rules of that church body, church law
governs the right of dominion, control, and disposal of
cases involving disputes over the ownership or control of
church property arising out of a schism, civil courts will
take jurisdiction only to assure the regularity of business
practices and to protect the right of private use and
ownership of property.
cases involving a church property dispute arising out of a
schism in a congregation affiliated with a hierarchical
religious organization or denomination that has established
internal tribunals for the resolution of internal disputes,
Kansas courts apply the principle of hierarchical deference.
Under the hierarchical deference approach, civil courts must
defer to the decision of the highest tribunal of the
hierarchical church body to which the issue has been
applying the hierarchical deference approach in cases
involving a property dispute arising out of a schism in a
local congregation affiliated with a hierarchical
denomination, Kansas courts should answer three questions
from a secular perspective: (1) Was the congregation
affiliated with a hierarchical church body or denomination
prior to the schism? (2) Does the hierarchical church body or
denomination have its own rules and procedures for the
resolution of property disputes arising out of a schism
within its congregations? and (3) Has there been a
determination of the property dispute by the highest tribunal
of the hierarchical church body or denomination to which the
issue has been presented? If the answers to each of these
questions is in the affirmative, then a civil court must
accept the decision of the church tribunal as binding.
Lower courts are duty bound to follow Kansas Supreme Court
precedent, absent some indication the court is departing from
its previous position.
from Johnson District Court; Kevin P. Moriarty, judge.
Brett Milbourn and R. Keith Johnston, of Walters Bender
Strohbehn & Vaughan, P.C., of Kansas City, Missouri, for
appellant/cross-appellee The Presbyterian Church of Stanley,
Inc. (Dennis Hamblin, Steve Lemieux, and Kay Sprouse).
Smithyman, of Smithyman & Zakoura, Chartered, of Overland
Park, for The Presbyterian Church of Stanley, Inc.
V. Hallquist and Christina M. Pyle, of Husch Blackwell LLP,
of Kansas City, Missouri, for appellee/cross-appellant
Standridge, P.J., Arnold-Burger and Bruns, JJ.
case involves a church property dispute arising out of a
schism that developed between the members of the Presbyterian
Church of Stanley, Inc. (PCOS). Since 1983, the PCOS has been
affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which is a
hierarchical religious denomination. Unfortunately, a
disagreement arose between the members of the congregation
relating primarily to certain theological positions taken by
the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) over the past several years.
In 2014, a majority of the members present at a
congregational meeting voted to have the PCOS leave the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-referred to as the
"leaving" faction-while a minority of the members
present at the meeting voted to continue its affiliation with
the denomination-referred to as the "staying"
Presbytery-a governing arm of the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.)- brought this quiet title and declaratory judgment
action in an attempt to preserve the congregation's
property for the use and benefit of the staying faction,
whose members desire for the PCOS to remain in fellowship
with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In response, the
leaving faction filed a counterclaim seeking similar relief
on behalf of those who voted for the PCOS to disaffiliate
from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Although the district
court found that the PCOS did not hold its property in trust
for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), it deferred to a
determination issued by a tribunal of Heartland Presbytery
that those members who desire to continue the PCOS's
affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are
entitled to the disputed church property.
after they filed a notice of appeal, the appellants-and
others who desired to have the congregation disaffiliate from
the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-resigned as members of the
PCOS and started a new congregation affiliated with a
different denomination. On appeal, we find that the
appellants did not acquiesce or waive their right to appeal
by exercising their right to leave the congregation after the
district court entered its judgment. Turning to the merits,
we find that the district court correctly applied the
principle of hierarchical deference-which has long been
recognized in Kansas-in determining which of the two factions
should have control of the property of the PCOS following the
schism. Furthermore, we find that there is no reason for
Kansas courts to retreat from the hierarchical deference
approach in resolving church property disputes arising out of
a schism. Thus, we affirm the district court's decision.
PCOS congregation originally formed in 1979, at which time it
was affiliated with two hierarchical church bodies-the United
Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA)
and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). In
1983, the UPCUSA and the PCUS merged to form the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.)- hereafter referred to as "PCUSA".
Similar to the two denominations from which it was formed,
the PCUSA is also a hierarchical church body. Consequently,
the PCOS has been officially affiliated with the PCUSA for
more than 33 years.
PCOS, throughout its history, has also been part of what is
now known as Heartland Presbytery-the governing arm of the
PCUSA that is composed of congregations in metropolitan
Kansas City. Prior to 1983, Heartland Presbytery was named
the Kansas City Union Presbytery because it served both the
UPCUSA and the PCUS. In the late 1970s, the Kansas City Union
Presbytery began efforts to plant a mission congregation in
southern Johnson County that would eventually become the
December 3, 1978, the Kansas City Union Presbytery began
holding worship services in the basement of the Bank of
Stanley. A part-time pastor supplied by the Presbytery led
the services. The following month, the Presbytery approved a
petition signed by 27 families requesting that a commission
be established to officially organize the congregation. On
May 5, 1979, the Presbytery purchased 5.8 acres of land
located near 148th and Antioch in Johnson County as a
building site for a new congregation. Finally, on August 10,
1979, the PCOS was officially incorporated in the State of
Articles of Incorporation filed by the PCOS in 1979 stated:
"This corporation is organized for the purpose of
supporting worship of Almighty God and instruction in the
Christian religion, according to the Constitution of The
United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America
and the Presbyterian Church in the United States."
Likewise, the bylaws approved by the PCOS in 1979 provided:
"The by-laws of the Presbyterian Church of Stanley as a
corporation shall always be subject to the Constitution and
laws of the State of Kansas, and also to the Constitution of
the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of
America and the Presbyterian Church in the United
February 1983, Pastor Richard Ramsey and a lay member of the
PCOS participated in a meeting of the Kansas City Union
Presbytery. At the meeting, a Plan of Reunion, which provided
for the merger of the UPCUSA and the PCUS, was unanimously
approved. The Plan of Reunion also adopted the proposed
Constitution of the PCUSA, which includes the Book of
Confessions and the Book of Order. The Book
of Confessions sets forth the core doctrinal beliefs of
the PCUSA, including the Nicene Creed, the Apostles'
Creed, the Scots Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the
Second Helvetic Confession, the Westminster Declaration of
Barmen, the Confession of 1967, and a Brief Statement of
Faith. The Book of Order sets forth the Foundations
of Presbyterian Polity, the Form of Government, the Directory
for Worship, and the Rules of Discipline.
Book of Order provides that "the congregations
of the [PCUSA] wherever they are, taken collectively,
constitute one church, called the church." As a
hierarchical denomination, officials of successive ranks
govern the PCUSA. At the congregation level, voting members
elect a council known as the Session, which is composed of
lay elders and the pastor or pastors. In turn, the Presbytery
governs the congregations in a particular geographic
district. Next, a group of presbyteries in a region is called
a Synod. Finally, the ultimate authority in the PCUSA rests
with the General Assembly, which is made up of commissioners
elected by the presbyteries.
other things, the Book of Order states that
"[a] 'congregation' . . . refers to a formally
organized community chartered and recognized by a presbytery
as provided in this Constitution. Each congregation of
the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall be governed by this
Constitution. The members of the congregation put
themselves under the leadership of the session and the higher
councils (presbytery, synod, and General Assembly)."
Book of Order, the PCUSA directs its congregations
to form a corporation where permitted to do so by civil law.
Moreover, the Book of Order provides that a
congregation organized as a corporation has the power
"to receive, hold, encumber, manage, and transfer
property, real or personal, for the congregation . . .
all subject to the authority of the session and under the
provisions of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.)." (Emphasis added.) The Book of
Order further states that the property owned by a
congregation "is a tool for the accomplishment of
the mission of Jesus Christ in the world."
addition, the Book of Order provides:
"All property held by or for a congregation . . .
whether legal title is lodged in a corporation, a trustee or
trustees, or an unincorporated association, and whether the
property is used in programs of a congregation or of a higher
council or retained for the production of income, is held
in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)." (Emphasis added.)
the resolution of disputes between factions over
"Property of Congregation in Schism, " the Book
of Order states:
"The relationship to the [PCUSA] of a congregation
can be severed only by constitutional action on the part of
the presbytery [citation omitted]. If there is a schism
within the membership of a congregation and the presbytery is
unable to effect a reconciliation . . . the presbytery
shall determine if one of the factions is entitled to the
property because it is identified by the presbytery as the
true church within the [PCUSA]. This determination does
not depend upon which faction received the majority vote
within the congregation at the time of the schism."
many years, the PCOS flourished as a congregation of the
PCUSA and Heartland Presbytery. By 2014, the congregation had
grown to more than 1, 000 members. Moreover, until the
disputes developed that ultimately led to the schism, the
PCOS, the PCUSA, and Heartland Presbytery worked closely
together on such things as purchasing property, obtaining
loans, and funding mission projects. The PCUSA and Heartland
Presbytery also approved, ordained, and installed all of the
pastors called to serve the PCOS. Over the years, pastors and
lay members of the PCOS served on various committees and
commissions of the Presbytery. In addition, pastors and lay
members of the PCOS served as commissioners of the Synod of
Mid-America and the General Assembly of the PCUSA.
to the schism, the PCOS borrowed money on several occasions
and purchased additional land. Until 2013, Heartland
Presbytery guaranteed all of the mortgage loans obtained by
the PCOS. The maintenance of the property was paid for by the
PCOS primarily using donations from its members. As required
by the Book of Order, the PCOS requested and
obtained the Presbytery's approval prior to acquiring or
encumbering its real property. Moreover, the PCOS ...