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Decision No. 753

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October 26 1995
In Re: Review of Report of Minnesota Conference Board of Ordained Ministry Relative to Judicial Council Decision 741.

Digest of Case

There was no valid withdrawal under complaint. The clergy member's status must be restored and appropriate compensation paid.

Statement of Facts

A clergy member of the Minnesota Annual Conference was reported as having withdrawn under complaint by letter dated March 29, 1993. In the 1994 session of the Minnesota Conference, the presiding bishop was asked to rule on the question, "May the Annual Conference act on a motion to readmit a person to conference membership without the process described in Par. 457 if that person withdrew under a complaint which depended on a change in a statute of limitations being applied retroactively? The bishop ruled that the person "chose to surrender his credentials. . . . It was his decision. Consequently, the clergy session cannot nullify or reverse a decision it did not make. . . . An Annual Conference may not readmit a person to conference membership when the conference did not take action to terminate his membership in the first place." Documents submitted to the Judicial Council indicated that a grievance had been filed against the clergy member prior to his withdrawal, but that it was based on an event alleged to have occurred many years prior, placing it well beyond the two-year statute of limitations in effect at that time. In Decision 741, the Judicial Council ruled, in part. "If a withdrawal under complaint is submitted and the complaint is based on a grievance which is invalid by reason of fact that the statute of limitations has run, the withdrawal under complaint is a nullity and void." The Judicial Council instructed the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Minnesota Conference "to determine if the clergy member withdrew under complaint based solely on a grievance based on an event which is alleged to have occurred more than two years prior to the filing of the grievance in December of 1992." Should that prove to be the case, the decision required restoration of the clergy member to his status as of March 29, 1993, the date of the letter of withdrawal On June 28, 1995, the Minnesota Conference Board of Ordained Ministry reported to the Judicial Council that "conduct in the written grievance report did commence more than twenty years earlier, but it also continued as late as 1984." The report refers to other alleged incidents which the writer of the report feels could have been the basis for additional grievances, and concludes, "... the Board of Ordained Ministry finds that his decision to withdraw was not based solely on the event charged in the original formal complaint, since he necessarily had to take into account the fact that there were similar charges which could be brought against him that were within the two year period." JURISDICTION The Judicial Council retained jurisdiction under Par. 2613 of the 1992 Discipline. ANALYSIS It appears that the Minnesota Conference Board of Ordained Ministry has misinterpreted Decision 741. Decision 741 took into account Decisions 691 and 704, which ruled invalid that section of Par. 454.1(b) which sought to make retroactive the extension of the statute of limitations from two to six years. Therefore, that extension may apply only to those actions occurring on or after January 1, 1993, the date on which the 1992 Discipline became effective. As applied to the instant case, the relevant section of Par. 454.1(b) must be read as follows: "No complaint shall be considered for any misconduct whichshall not have been committed within two years immediately preceding the filing of the grievance. . . ." It is the filing of the written, signed grievance which stops the clock on the statute of limitations, not suspicions, rumors, or reports of conduct which could conceivably eventuate in the filing of a grievance. For withdrawal under complaint to occur, that grievance must be evaluated in accordance with the process specified in the Discipline and referred to the chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry as a complaint. This is the process decreed by the General Conference, and this is the process which must be followed without exception by each Annual Conference if there is to be a valid complaint against a clergy member. An essential element is the written, signed grievance alleging an offense to have occurred within the period of the statute of limitations. The conclusion of the Board of Ordained Ministry that the clergy member "had to take into account the fact that there were similar charges which could be brought against him that were within the two year period" has no bearing on the case before us. The issue is whether there was a complaint based on a written, signed grievance alleging an offense which occurred within the two-year period of the statute of limitations in effect at that time. No evidence has been offered that there was such a complaint. Lacking that complaint, there could be no withdrawal under complaint. As ordered in Decision 741, the clergy member must be reinstated as of March 29, 1993 and compensated accordingly .

Decision

The withdrawal under complaint was not valid. The clergy member's status must be restored and appropriate compensation paid. This copy subject to final editing and correction.

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