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Divided justices reject opposing summary judgments in church split

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Neither the trial court nor the Court of Appeals got it right in a dispute between an Evansville Presbyterian church and its former denomination when the church left over simmering disagreements on abortion and other matters of doctrine, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in a 3-2 decision.

Olivet Presbyterian Church split from Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in 2006 after an affiliation with predecessor denominations dating back more than a century. The denomination, claiming a trust on Olivet’s property, sued after the church declined to relinquish it.

The justices ruled that neither a trial court grant of summary judgment in favor of the church or an appeals court reversal and grant of summary judgment for the denomination was adequate, and sent the case back to Vanderburgh Circuit Judge Carl Heldt.

“We hold that genuine issues of material fact arise from the inferences flowing from the stipulated designated evidence and that neither Olivet nor the Presbytery is entitled to the full relief sought in their respective motions for summary judgment,” Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote in an opinion joined by justices Steven David and Robert Rucker.

“Genuine issues of disputed fact, resulting from varying inferences possible from the designated evidence, must be resolved at trial rather than on summary judgment,” Dickson wrote.

Justices Mark Massa and Frank Sullivan Jr. dissented without separate opinions, believing the decision and analysis of the Court of Appeals to be correct.

 

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