A judge in New Mexico ruled March 20 that a federal court has jurisdiction over a lawsuit challenging last year’s sale of Glorieta Conference Center and lifted a stay so that the case can proceed.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Hayes Scott determined that the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico is the proper venue for a lawsuit filed by an Arkansas couple who claim LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention lacked legal authority to unload the 2,400-acre retreat center opened in 1952 that officials say had been losing money for years.
Kirk and Susie Tompkins of Little Rock, Ark., seek $400,000 for loss of their vacation home built on property leased from Glorieta. They want an additional $12 million to be divided among about 65 homeowners who built or purchased homes on Glorieta property secured by what the couple says were understood to be a perpetually recurring lease.
Glorieta’s new owners, a group of Texas investors who formed a corporation called Glorieta 2.0, aren’t interested in continuing the decades-old arrangement and offered leaseholders options for moving off the property.
Ruled damages exceeded lawful minimum
The magistrate upheld federal jurisdiction, finding that the alleged damages exceed the $75,000 minimum established by law and all the defendants reside in states other than Arkansas. SBC lawyers had argued the lawsuit didn’t meet the latter standard, but that became moot when two of the defendants who live in Arkansas were dropped from the case.
The leaseholders say Glorieta wasn’t LifeWay’s to sell, because a 1950 warranty deed granted the conference center property to a different entity, the SBC Executive Committee. They claim LifeWay officials committed fraud when they presented themselves as having authority to dispose of the land for $1.
SBC lawyers say the convention has the right to interpret its own constitution and bylaws and courts cannot interfere in ecclesiastical matters due to the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.
Allows judge to resolve motions
Thursday’s ruling authorizes U.S. District Judge James O. Browning to proceed in resolving motions pending in his court in Albuquerque.
Magistrate judges in the federal court system assist district judges in administering justice. Unlike most federal judges, who are nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate and appointed for life, magistrates are elected by district judges for a term of eight years.