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Decision No. 230

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October 21 1965
In Re: Request of Florida Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision as to the Legality of a Ruling Passed by that Annual Conference Fixing a Maximum Limit Which its Local Churches May Allow as Travel and Expense Funds

Digest of Case

Paragraph 829 of the Discipline, not being of doubtful meaning, cannot be made the basis for a declaratory decision nor may the Judicial Council treat the petition of the Florida Annual Conference as an appeal because the acts of an Annual Conference cannot be reviewed upon a direct petition of the Annual Conference itself. Petitions for such review must be brought in the manner prescribed by the Discipline.

Statement of Facts

The Journal of the Florida Annual Conference records the action of that conference (Page 100, 1959 Journal) by which it "voted to set as a maximum the sum of $600 as a fair limit for the pastor's travel and expense fund." Acting upon a petition of the Quarterly Conference of St. Luke's Methodist Church of St. Petersburg, Florida, the Florida Annual Conference in its regular session on June 11 1965, voted to request from the Judicial Council a declaratory decision as outlined in the said petition of the Quarterly Conference of St. Luke's Methodist Church. The petition is as follows: "The Fourth Quarterly Conference of St. Luke's Church, St. Petersburg District, respectfully petitions the Florida Annual Conference under P914 S 8 of the 1964 DISCIPLINE to request a Declaratory Decision because of varied interpretation of P829 concerning "all travel, automobile, and other expenses" for the purpose of determining: 1. Whether a Cabinet may legally or administratively fix a limit which a local church may report and pay as its allocation to the pastor for actual car expenses for church work when that fixed limit is less than the actual recorded expenses for church travel. 2. Whether an Annual Conference may legally fix a limit for car expenses for church work which is less than the pastor's actual recorded expenses as reported on his Income Tax. 3. Whether depreciation for his car, as reported on his Income Tax Return, and used exclusively for church work, may validly be included within the meaning and intent of the term, "actual car expenses." 4. Whether a pastor under P829 may report and accept for actual car expenses the same amount that he reports on his Income Tax Return. 5. Whether the word "allowed" in P829 bestows upon a Cabinet or an Annual Conference power to fix a limit less than actual expenses incurred." These actions of the Florida Annual Conference are duly certified by Robert C. Boggs, Secretary of the conference. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction in this Case for the reasons cited in the analysis below. ANALYSIS It is established by the record that the Florida Annual Conference in its 1959 session "voted to set as a maximum the sum of $600 as a fair limit for the pastor's travel and expense fund." Upon the passing of a resolution by one of the churches of the Annual Conference questioning the authority of the conference in the application of this rule, the Annual Conference agreed to ask the Judicial Council to decide five issues raised in the resolution bearing upon the legality of the Annual Conference ruling and its application in various situations. The petition itself states that it is filed under the provisions of Paragraph 914 of the Discipline. That paragraph authorizes the Judicial Council to render a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision on proper petition from an Annual Conference "when the General Conference shall have passed any act or legislation that appears to be unconstitutional or subject to more than one interpretation or when any paragraph or paragraphs of the Discipline seem to be of doubtful meaning or application." When such conditions exist, the Judicial Council may make "a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect of such paragraph or paragraphs of the Discipline." Reference is made in the petition of the Annual Conference to Paragraph 829 of the Discipline. This paragraph is concerned solely with the method of reporting pastors' expenses and does not appear to be "of doubtful meaning or application," nor does it appear to have relevance to the question at issue. There is nothing in Paragraph 914 or elsewhere in the Discipline which grants to the Judicial Council the jurisdiction to render a decision as to the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect of an act or ruling passed by an Annual Conference upon petition of the conference itself. Judicial Council Decision 184 states in a similar case: "There is no provision in the law of the Church which authorizes the Judicial Council to hear and determine a question of law or the legality of an act, legislation or a rule of an Annual Conference upon direct application of that conference without first obtaining a ruling from a bishop made during a regular business session of the conference." In that decision, the Judicial Council held that the request of an Annual Conference concerning the legality of a rule adopted by that conference "does not confer jurisdiction upon the Judicial Council to render a declaratory decision and that the only means by which the question submitted can be brought to the Judicial Council is upon an appeal from the Bishop's ruling therein made by one-fifth of the conference present and voting and/or upon submission to the Judicial Council by the bishop of his decision as to the legality thereof made during a regular business session of the conference." The Judicial Council reaffirms this position.

Decision

It is the decision of the Judicial Council that Paragraph 829 of the Discipline, not being of doubtful meaning, cannot be made the basis for a declaratory decision nor may the Judicial Council treat the petition of the Florida Annual Conference as an appeal because the acts of an Annual Conference cannot be reviewed upon a direct petition of the Annual Conference itself. Petitions for such review must be brought in the manner prescribed by the Discipline.

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