COMPLEX BYLAWS

While a congregational church that does not have bylaws that can identify members, identify officers, identify employees, especially pastors, and provide for succession will regret it if disputes arise, equally problematic is the church that has overly complex bylaws that require many steps to accomplish such normal operational requirements.  Overly complex bylaws contain too many procedural steps or empower multiple boards with conflicting or overlapping spheres of authority.  Overly complex bylaws provide for complex verification procedures or worse, subjective verification of office holding credentials.  Overly complex bylaws create too many opportunities for the volunteers on the board to miss a step altogether or even if it was fulfilled fail to document it so that after the passage of time it cannot be determined it was fulfilled.

In Oriental Mission Church v Park, 2017 WL 3262257 (Cal. App. 2017), factional disputes led to a decade of litigation including several prior trial court judgments and one prior appeal.  The church had a set of bylaws which were translated into English and stipulated into evidence.  The bylaws required election to leadership by a 2/3rds congregational vote.  The leadership was limited to nine years of service or three successive terms.  The leadership had a mandatory retirement age of 65.  If someone in leadership resigned voluntarily, the leader could be reinstated in leadership by petitioning for reinstatement, submitting letters of recommendation from 1/3 of the serving members of the board, followed by a vote of the board at which 2/3rds must vote for reinstatement.  The board members resigned en masse, with a couple of exceptions, in 2006 and this opinion ruled upon reinstatement.  The trial court held that the resignations were valid and reinstatement had not been proven to have occurred.

The trial court also found that one board member did not mean his signed resignation to be an actual resignation.  The trial court on that basis held that board member had not resigned.  The appellate court affirmed all of the trial court rulings except this one, finding the testimony of the board member about his intent was inexplicable in light of the signed resignation.  A written resignation was held to remain enforceable over self-serving contrary testimony.

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