e-Journal Summary

e-Journal Number : 57166
Opinion Date : 05/22/2014
e-Journal Date : 05/27/2014
Court : Michigan Court of Appeals
Case Name : Chabad-Lubavitich of MI v. Schuchman
Practice Area(s) : Real Property Constitutional Law
Judge(s) : Hoekstra, Stephens, and Meter
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Property ownership dispute between religious entities; Statute of limitations (SOL); When the plaintiff's claim accrued; MCL 600.5827; "Equitable tolling"; Trentadue v. Buckler Lawn Sprinkler; Effect of the parties' involvement in ecclesiastical dispute resolution proceedings; AFSCME v. Highland Park Bd. of Educ.; The necessity of exhaustion of religious dispute resolution remedies before filing an action in the civil courts; Buettner v. Frazer; Miller v. McClung; Dispute as to when the ecclesiastical dispute resolution process ended; Impropriety of interpreting religious doctrine or polity under the First Amendment; Jones v. Wolf; Primary purposes behind the enactment of SOLs; Wright v. Rinaldo; Whether the parties were engaged in voluntary arbitration proceedings; Varga v. Heritage Hosp.; The "ecclesiastical abstention" doctrine; Bennison v. Sharp; U.S. Const., amend. I & XIV; Const. 1963, art. 1, ยง 4; "Hierarchical denominations"; Lamont Cmty. Church v. Lamont Christian Reformed Church; Smith v. Calvary Christian Church; Trespass claim; Wiggins v. City of Burton; Easement holder's exceeding the scope of the easement; Schadewald v. Brule; Bais Chabad Torah Center of West Bloomfield (Bais Chabad); Chabad-Lubavitch of Michigan (Chabad-Lubavitch)


Holding that the applicable SOLs were tolled during the ecclesiastical dispute resolution proceedings and that there were genuine issues of material fact, the court reversed the trial court's order granting the defendants summary disposition in this property ownership dispute and remanded for further proceedings. The property is currently titled in the name of defendant-Bais Chabad. Plaintiff-Chabad-Lubavitch asserted that defendants were part of the Chabad-Lubavitch religious hierarchy, and that the property must be titled in its name pursuant to Chabad-Lubavitch religious doctrine and polity and the orders of several ecclesiastical bodies. Defendants argued that no religious or legal doctrine required it to transfer title of its property. In Highland Park, the Michigan Supreme Court held that "a plaintiff's claims are tolled during the exhaustion of mandatory dispute resolution procedures." Applying this principle, the court held that the applicable SOLs were tolled during the exhaustion of plaintiff's ecclesiastical remedies and its claims were timely. While defendants disputed the date that the ecclesiastical dispute resolution process ended, the court concluded that resolving the parties' disagreement about when that process was final would require it "to interpret religious doctrine or polity," which would be improper under the First Amendment. Thus, it was "required to defer to plaintiff's claim that the procedure was not final until it received permission to file a civil lawsuit." The court also noted that "Michigan law has previously recognized the necessity of exhaustion of religious dispute resolution remedies prior to filing an action in the civil courts." Because plaintiff's claims were timely, the trial court erred in granting defendants summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7). Further, summary disposition was not appropriate under MCR 2.116(C)(10) on the basis of the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. The trial court did not address whether Chabad-Lubavitch is a hierarchical organization. The parties disputed this issue as to the control of finances and property. The court concluded based on the record that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Chabad-Lubavitch is hierarchical in regard to property matters, and thus, whether the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine applied. "On remand, the trial court should be careful to avoid engaging in an impermissible 'searching inquiry' into the doctrine and polity of Chabad-Lubavitch because courts 'must take special care to scrutinize the document in purely secular terms, and not to rely on religious precepts in determining the intent of the document.'" Finally, the court held that plaintiff's allegations, taken as true, were sufficient to plead, as a matter of law, a trespass claim, making summary disposition of that claim under MCR 2.116(C)(8) inappropriate.

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