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Greater Fairview Missionary Baptist Church v. Hollins

Supreme Court of Mississippi

March 26, 2015

GREATER FAIRVIEW MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH , PAYTON LACY, BAXTER EVANS, HARRELL NEAL, KELVIN THIGPEN AND DAVID EDWIN LEVY
v.
DANNY RAY HOLLINS

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HINDS COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/30/2013. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. J. DWAYNE THOMAS.

REVERSED AND VACATED.

FOR APPELLANTS: FELICIA PERKINS, JESSICA AYERS.

FOR APPELLEE: SUZANNE KEYS.

BEFORE DICKINSON, P.J., LAMAR AND CHANDLER, JJ. WALLER, C.J., DICKINSON AND RANDOLPH, P.JJ., KITCHENS, CHANDLER, PIERCE, KING AND COLEMAN, JJ., CONCUR.

OPINION

Page 224

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - OTHER

LAMAR, JUSTICE.

¶1. Greater Fairview Missionary Baptist Church's pastor, Danny Ray Hollins, was placed on paid administrative leave after he was accused of inappropriate sexual contact with a minor. When the church members decided to vote on whether to retain him as pastor, he sought injunctive relief in chancery court. The chancellor issued a temporary restraining

Page 225

order, but the church voted anyway and dismissed Hollins. The chancellor then vacated the vote and ordered the church to conduct another vote, this time with certain court-ordered procedures regarding notice, eligibility, vote-counting, and security. This Court granted the church defendants' motion for interlocutory appeal, and we now vacate the chancery court's orders in this case.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. In October 2012, Danny Ray Hollins was pastor of Greater Fairview Missionary Baptist Church in Jackson. That month, he was placed on paid administrative leave when a member of the church accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior with a minor.[1] Later that year, the church decided to hold a vote on whether to retain Hollins as pastor. That vote originally was scheduled to take place in early 2013. But tensions arose in the church about Hollins's status, giving rise to a " chaotic situation," and the vote did not take place as planned. Instead, the church voted to allow the Deacons' Ministry to form a legal committee and to hire outside legal counsel for assistance in resolving the internal conflict. With the help of a local law firm, the church developed an election procedure and scheduled a vote for March 2, 2013.

¶3. One of the deacons[2] compiled a list of active church members who were at least sixteen years old and certified it under oath the day before the vote. The deacons and their counsel arranged for a certified public accounting firm to count and certify the votes and for security personnel to be present. Upon entering the church, members reported at various tables based on the first letter of their last name, identified themselves, and received a ballot. That ballot was " regular" if the voter was on the membership roll and " conditional" if he or she was not. Ballots also were distributed to members of the church who were " shut-in" and could not make it to the church that day. Once the ballots were completed, they were deposited into boxes which were under the control of the CPA and his assistant.

¶4. On March 1, 2013, the day before the vote, Hollins filed a petition in the Hinds County Chancery Court seeking " to enjoin any unauthorized and improper meetings and/or actions taken outside a properly called membership meeting." The petition named the church and five deacons as defendants.[3] Hollins asserted that the church planned to have a meeting on March 2 " to vote on a resolution discharging [him] as pastor." He claimed that the vote would be invalid because (1) " there ha[d] been no certification of the list of members in good standing who would be entitled to vote . . ." ; [4] (2) absent such certification, adequate notice to eligible members could not be accomplished; and (3) the state denominational guidelines had not been followed because " there ha[d] been no attempts at Conciliation or other notice given to Plaintiff as pastor as required."

Page 226

¶5. Hollins also claimed that he would be irreparably harmed if he was " voted out as Pastor," in that his reputation would suffer, he would lose his income, and he would suffer emotionally. Finally, Hollins asserted that there was " a high likelihood [that he would succeed] in the merits of his case, namely that any meeting of church membership without proper certification of voter rolls and notice and adherence to all established guidelines is void . . . ." Hollins's counsel certified that a temporary restraining order (" TRO" ) was needed, that he had been unable to notice the defendants, that the defendants would not be prejudiced by the TRO, and that on " information and belief [the church] is not represented by counsel duly hired by the church membership." [5]

¶6. The chancellor issued the TRO, apparently without reading it.[6] While five deacons and the church itself were named as defendants, the TRO was served on only four of the deacons, as the agent for service of process for the church was deceased and could not be served. The TRO purported to enjoin " any membership meeting," but the chancellor later explained it was intended to " restrain any vote that may take place."

¶7. Despite the TRO, the vote took place as scheduled on March 2, 2013. The ballot contained one question: " Should Danny Hollins, Ph.D., remain pastor of Greater Fairview M.B. Church?" More than four hundred church members voted, and less than fifty percent voted to retain Hollins as pastor.

¶8. Hollins quickly filed a motion to set aside the results of the vote and to hold the church defendants in contempt and incarcerate them. Hollins also filed a motion asking the court to set a procedure for determining eligible voters and for voting. On March 7, 2013, defendants filed a motion to dissolve the TRO, to dismiss the action, and for sanctions against Hollins. The chancellor heard brief arguments from each side the next day. Although no evidence was introduced at that time, the chancellor did set aside the results of the March 2 vote.[7]

¶9. The chancellor also stated that " we will conduct further evidence to allow a further vote by this church to determine if Mr. Hollins is the pastor of this church or not." He asked the parties to provide him with the " documents necessary to start that," explaining, " I have done several of these before. If you can't do it, I will." He continued, saying, " we will conduct a vote, and I will supervise it with proper guidelines." In his Order, the chancellor

Page 227

explained that he was setting aside the vote because " [d]efendants went forward with their meeting or vote in spite of ...


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