Headlines

Daily Journal

September 15, 2021 — A federal judge granted the summary judgment motion for Larson LLP's client, The Church of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church"), dismissing a fraud lawsuit filed by ex-member James Huntsman, the Daily Journal reported.

Mr. Huntsman's lawsuit against the LDS Church claimed that "[church] officials repeatedly said tithes would be used solely for non-commercial purposes such as missionary work, member indoctrination, temple work, and educational/charitable activities," and thus misled members over spending tithing funds on commercial projects such as downtown Salt Lake City's City Creek shopping center. In a motion filed on Aug. 9, 2021, and subsequent financial papers submitted to the Court, the LDS Church argued that no tithing money was spent on developing the City Creek shopping center and that the money came instead from "commercial entities owned by the Church" and "earnings of ... invested reserve funds." 

The LDS church also argued in the summary judgment motion 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."

On Sept. 14, 2021, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that "the church's president expressly stated that earnings on invested tithed funds would be used to buy and develop a commercial shopping center in downtown Salt Lake City" and that "any reasonable juror would find that the church used the earnings of the invested reserve funds exactly the way it said it would."

Judge Wilson also ruled that Mr. Hunstman's fraud claim is prohibited by the First Amendment," which "bars the jury or the court from diving into 'internal ecclesiastical disputes.'"

"I'm very pleased and proud of the result we got ... from the district court and grateful that the court took the time to dig deeply into the record that was presented, and come out with this result," partner Rick Richmond, who represents the LDS Church along with associates Matthew S. ManacekTroy S. Tessem, and Nate Wright, told the Daily Journal

Read the full article by Gina Kim of the Daily Journal here (subscription required). The case dismissal has been covered by numerous publications, including by Paighten Harkins of The Salt Lake Tribune here, Ben Winslow of FOX 13 here, and Maeve Allsup of Bloomberg Law here.