African Meth. Ch.v.St. Paul Meth. Ch. of Selmont

Supreme Court of AlabamaMar 19, 1976
295 Ala. 343 (Ala. 1976)
295 Ala. 343329 So. 2d 542

SC 1376.

March 19, 1976.

Appeal from the Circuit Court, Dallas County, Edgar P. Russell, Jr., J.

Chestnut, Sanders Sanders, Selma, for appellant.

Whether the Court below erred in rendering summary judgment on the record and evidence in this case? A motion for summary judgment may not be granted if there is a genuine issue of any material fact. Rule 56(c), Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure; Birmingham Television Corporation v. Waterworks, 292 Ala. 147, 290 So.2d 636 (1974); Chappell v. Goltsman, 186 F.2d 215 (5th Cir. 1950). Whether the Court below erred as a matter of law in the construction placed on the two deeds of trust? Street v. Pitts, 238 Ala. 531, 192 So. 258; Dickson v. Van House, 157 Ala. 459, 47 So. 718, 19 L.R.A., N.S., 719; Stratford v. Lattimer, 225 Ala. 201, 50 So.2d 240; Title 47, Code of Alabama, Sections 17 and 23, 26 C.T.S. 84. Thompson v. Leyden, 222 Ala. 81, 130 So. 780; King v. Coffee, 222 Ala. 245, 131 So. 792.

Gamble Gamble, Selma, for appellee.

In construing a deed, the real inquiry is the intention of the parties, especially that of the grantor, and if that intention can be gained from the entire instrument, resort to arbitrary rules of construction is not required. Hardee v. Hardee, 265 Ala. 669, 93 So.2d 127. The Court will interpret a deed so as to give effect and meaning to each and every part thereof, each clause being considered separately, and being governed by the entire instrument, and separate parts viewed in the light of the other parts, if that can be done consistently with the rules of law. 26 C.J.S. Declaratory Judgments, page 84. A deed to trustees of an unincorporated association, though inactive, does not rest the legal title in the beneficiary but in those trustees and their successors. When the association becomes incorporated, as it may be under the law, the beneficiary becomes a definite, certain entity, and, under such a trust, the title thereby vests in the corporation. Street v. Pitts, 238 Ala. 531, 192 So. 258. Statutory provisions relating to deeds are read into a deed and become a part of it. 26 C.J.S. Deeds, page 806. Bush v. Greer, 235 Ala. 56, 177 So. 344; Scott v. Scott, 242 Ala. 361, 6 So.2d 476; Carpenter v. McCart, 272 Ala. 471, 131 So.2d 856; Henry v. Metz, 382 Ill. 297, 46 N.E.2d 945.


The question presented is the propriety of the circuit judge's granting summary judgment in a contest between two religious groups over the ownership of church property.

African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America, a national religious organization, and St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, Selma, Alabama, an unincorporated local congregation affiliated with the national organization, brought suit against St. Paul Methodist Church of Selmont, an incorporated local congregation which was organized on June 12, 1969, when a majority of the local congregation disaffiliated from the national organization. In the suit the national organization and the local affiliate sought to enjoin and restrain the newly formed church group from using the church facilities. They also sought an accounting.

The trial judge granted summary judgment in favor of the newly formed church. In granting summary judgment, the court stated:

"It further appearing to the Court that the rights and claims of the parties in and to the real estate involved in this cause depends upon the interpretation and construction of two similar conveyances made to certain individuals as Trustees of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, Selma, Alabama, which was, at the time said deeds were executed, an unincorporated association consisting of members of a local church or religious society, and that the members of said unincorporated association became incorporated on June 11, 1969, under Article 3 of Chapter 7, Title 10, Code of Alabama 1940 (Recompiled 1958), with its corporate name specified to be St. Paul Methodist Church of Selmont, a Respondent in the present cause; and,

"It further appearing to the Court from the words and language used in the aforesaid deeds and also from existing statutes applicable thereto (§ 126(1) and (126(2), Title 10, Code of Alabama, 1940 (Recompiled 1958) that the parties to the aforesaid deeds intended that the legal title to the real estate conveyed therein should vest in the trustees named as grantees therein free from any regulation and control of the Plaintiffs in this cause, and that upon the incorporation of the members of the aforesaid unincorporated association with its corporate name specified as St. Paul Methodist Church of Selmont, the legal title to said real estate vested in said last named corporation free from any regulation and control of the Plaintiffs in this cause . . . ."

The essential facts appearing in the record are as follows:

Before September 1, 1955, the lot upon which the church building stood for many years was contained in a larger tract of land known as the King estate, which had been devised by will equally to Frederic D. King and an alien German woman, Marie Smitter. The undivided one-half interest owned by Marie Smitter was seized by the alien property custodian of the United States government during the second World War. By similar deeds, dated September 1, 1955, and October 15, 1955, respectively, the Attorney General of the United States and Frederic D. King, conveyed their entire interest in the real estate involved to certain named individuals "as trustees of St. Paul African Methodist Church, Selma, Alabama." Pertinent portions of these deeds read as follows:

"This Indenture, made . . . by and between . . . parties of the first part, and . . . as Trustees of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, Selma, Alabama, as parties of the second part." (Emphasis added.)

The habendum clauses contain this language:

"TO HAVE AND TO HOLD, . . . forever in trust, for the use of the members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America, according to the rule and discipline of said Church, which from time to time may be adopted and agreed upon by the ministers and preachers of said Church at their General Conference in the United States of America." (Emphasis added.)

It is apparent that the trial court, in resolving the question of whether the parties to the deeds intended for the national organization to have an interest in the property, relied upon Title 10, §§ 126(1) and 126(2), Code of Alabama 1940 (Recomp. 1958), which provides:

"§ 126(1). Corporation free and independent of control unless otherwise provided by deed or vote. — Unless otherwise clearly stated in the deed or other instrument under which any church corporation organized under the provisions of this article derives title, or unless afterwards approved by a majority of the adult members of the congregation of such church at a meeting held after announcement from the pulpit of the church at least 7 days from the date of the announcement, such church corporation, whether heretofore, or hereafter organized and incorporated under the provisions of this article, shall be and shall remain a distinct and independent church corporation, free from the regulation and control of any higher church body, denomination or other organization with which it is now or hereafter associated or affiliated insofar as the management, control, disposition, or alienation of its real property is concerned."

Although this statute may aid the fact finder in this case in determining the intent of the grantors, the trial judge inappropriately granted summary judgment. As a general proposition, summary judgment, when issues of motive, intent, and other subjective feelings and reactions are material, is likely to be inappropriate. Moore's Federal Practice § 56.17[41.-2].

The judgment of the trial court is REVERSED and REMANDED.

HEFLIN, C. J., and MERRILL, JONES and SHORES, JJ., concur.