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Daily Journal

August 10, 2021 — The Daily Journal reported that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church") moved for summary judgment on Aug. 9 to seek dismissal of a lawsuit brought by an ex-member before U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson of the Central District of California.

Partner Rick Richmond represents the LDS Church in the lawsuit brought by James Huntsman (Huntsman v. Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints et al.) alleging that "the church fraudulently used millions in tithes for commercial rather than charitable purposes," the Daily Journal noted. The church, in turn, "says it is protected by the First Amendment…[and] denies the claims, stating that all of the funds for the project came from the earnings on the church’s invested reserve funds and from commercial entities affiliated with it."

The project in question is a shopping center that the church purchased and renovated allegedly using Mr. Huntsman’s tithes, which, the Daily Journal explained, is "10% of his yearly income donated to the church."

The Daily Journal reported that in the motion for summary judgment, the church argues that "the lawsuit clearly encroaches on the church autonomy doctrine of the First Amendment…, which allows religious organizations broad autonomy to collect and spend funds in the way they see fit, free from court intervention."

"Courts are reluctant to entertain claims like the one by Mr. Huntsman because the First Amendment protects the rights of churches to determine how their own doctrines and religious practices affect the spending and investing of unrestricted contributions…All of Mr. Huntsman's contributions to the church were voluntary and were given with no strings attached. The law says he cannot get them back," Rick told the Daily Journal.

The article went on to report on similar cases that were dismissed citing the First Amendment—one where a former church member also sought to reclaim tithes and another where a Catholic school teacher alleged age discrimination, but when it reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the judge "held that ministerial exception, grounded in the First Amendment’s religious freedom clause, barred the teacher’s claims."

The Larson LLP team representing the LDS Church along with Rick includes associates Matthew S. Manacek, Tim C. Tanner, and Troy S. Tessem

Read the full article by Blaise Scemama of the Daily Journal covering the motion here (subscription required).