On April 2, 2020, a panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals issued a 17-page opinion unanimously affirming the dismissal of a $50 Million dollar lawsuit brought against The Israelite House of David (“IHOD”), a religious association located in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Charles Ferrel (“Ferrel”), an excommunicated member of the religion, sued IHOD requesting that he be “allowed to reestablish his membership as the only person committed to maintain[ing] the faith,” and given possession and control of IHOD’s assets, which he claimed to be worth more than $50 million dollars. Ferrel claimed he was “the only person who is a true believer in the religion of IHOD with the capacity to manage its assets to advance its religious purposes.” In the alternative, Ferrel sought the escheat of IHOD’s assets to the state.
Altior Law moved to dismiss Ferrel’s claims, arguing that Ferrel lacked standing and that the court was barred from determining the religious questions underlying his claims under the ecclesiastic abstention doctrine. Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Shalina Kumar agreed, and dismissed all of Ferrel’s claims. In its April 2, 2020 Opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed summary disposition on all four issues raised on appeal. It held that Ferrel’s claims were barred under the ecclesiastic abstention doctrine, reasoning they “would require the court to delve into forbidden matters of [religious] doctrine and polity,” which “would require resolution of ecclesiastical issues, which was prohibited by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine.” The Court of Appeals also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing Ferrel’s quo warranto action, and held that Ferrel lacked standing “based on his release of his membership and any rights attendant to that membership in the Settlement Agreement, as well as his agreement to have no contact with IHOD or its members for the rest of his life.”
Click here to read the Michigan Court of Appeals’ Opinion. Altior Law attorneys Kenneth Neuman and Matt Smith represented the IHOD defendants on appeal.