Mt. Zion Church law­suit set­tled

The Covington News - - Front Page - Am­ber Pittman apittman@cov­news.com

Trans­fer of church and prop­erty ruled un­law­ful

A Su­pe­rior Court judge ruled Wed­nes­day that the trans­fer of Mt. Zion Church and all prop­erty associated with the Ox­ford church to a third party was un­law­ful.

The or­der signed by Su­pe­rior Court Judge Sa­muel Ozburn is for a case that has been on­go­ing for more than a year. At­tor­neys for all par­ties are ex­pected to re­turn to court later this week to dis­cuss fur­ther pro­ceed­ings be­fore a fi­nal judg­ment can be made.

The case stems from a dis­pute be­tween mem­bers and the pas­tor of Mt. Zion Bap­tist Church. The law­suit was filed against the pas­tor, Clayton Dial, and his daugh­ter, An- gela Bal­lard, by 37 mem­bers of the church.

The church mem­bers ac­cuse Dial of deed­ing the church and prop­erty over to a third party, God’s Hope Builders, Inc., an ac­tion that Dial never de­nied. How­ever, he tes­ti­fied that he did that in or­der to “keep the church from go­ing in­de­pen­dent,” and to “pre­serve the church’s af­fil­i­a­tion with the Stone Moun­tain Bap­tist As­so­ci­a­tion and the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion.”

On the Sun­day af­ter the trans­fer, mem­bers of the church ar­rived to find the church locked and “no tres­pass­ing” signs posted.

The court was asked to de­cide if all the church prop­erty

trans­ferred by Dial and Bal­lard was “in the usual and reg­u­lar course” of the ac­tiv­i­ties of the church and the court found it was not.

“The rea­sons stated by de­fen­dant Clayton Dial for the trans­fer clearly show that this trans­fer was not in the ‘usual and reg­u­lar course of the ac­tiv­i­ties’ of the church,” reads the or­der. “…The un­con­di­tional gift of all prop­erty of the church to an­other party in vi­o­la­tion of the fidu­ciary duty owed by the de­fen­dants to the church can­not be ‘in the usual and reg­u­lar course’ of the ac­tiv­i­ties of the church.”

The or­der con­tin­ued, “…con­vey­ing all prop­erty of the church un­con­di­tion­ally for no con­sid­er­a­tion to a third party will ob­vi­ously pre­vent the church from con­duct­ing any ac­tiv­i­ties, much less the very ac­tiv­i­ties for which it was cre­ated. Based upon the ad­mit­ted in­ten­tion of de­fen­dant Clayton Dial in mak­ing the trans­fer, the in­ten­tion of the de­fen­dants was not based upon a good faith be­lief that it was in the best in­ter­ests of the church. There­fore, such a trans­fer can­not be ‘in the usual and reg­u­lar course’ of the ac­tiv­i­ties of the church.”

The court was asked to also con­sider if the mem­bers of the church rat­i­fied or ap­proved the trans­fer of all church prop­erty to God’s Hope Builders, Inc.

“Since Clayton Dial as the sole dea­con, ob­vi­ously ap­proved the trans­fer, the con­veyance of all the church prop­erty can be up­held only if it was ap­proved or rat­i­fied by a ma­jor­ity of the church mem­ber­ship… the court finds that the de­fen­dants (Dial and Bal­lard) rep­re­sent a ma­jor­ity of the church mem­ber­ship… how­ever… the con­veyance of all of the prop­erty of the church by the de­fen­dants was not rat­i­fied or ap­proved by the church mem­ber­ship… there is no ev­i­dence that the mem­bers rat­i­fied or were even given the op­por­tu­nity to rat­ify or vote con­cern­ing the trans­fer… Be­cause of this fail­ure to rat­ify or ap­prove the trans­fer, it is un­law­ful.”

A.J. Archer / The Cov­ing­ton News

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