Kamchi v. Weissman – Case Brief Summary (New York)

In Kamchi v. Weissman (125 AD3d 142 [2nd Dept 2014]), the Second Department was asked to address a situation remarkably similar to that underpinning the instant matter.

There, several members of the congregation of a Jewish synagogue commenced an action against the congregation's board of directors, challenging the board's failure to renew the contract of the congregation's rabbi in the absence of approval by the members of the congregation.

There, the by-laws of the congregation provided that the power to hire and fire the rabbi was retained by the congregation at large, and not delegated to the board.

There, members of the congregation called for a congregation-wide vote on whether to renew a rabbi's employment agreement.

The board allegedly noticed a meeting that purported to limit the agenda to informational matters, and expressly precluded the members of the congregation from voting on the issue of the rabbi's continued or extended employment.

The board in Kamchi argued, as does the board here, that the complaint failed to state a cause of action.

In a detailed opinion by Justice Dickerson, the Second Department analyzed the history and purpose of Religious Corporations Law §§ 5 and 200, and the interplay of those statutes with the by-laws of the subject congregation, and concluded that the plaintiffs stated a cause of action alleging violation of the statutes and by-laws.

"The primary purpose of the Religious Corporations Law is to provide an orderly method for the administration of the property and temporalities dedicated to the use of religious groups, and to preserve them from exploitation by those who might divert them from the true beneficiaries of the corporate trust." Morris v. Scribner, 69 NY2d 418, 423, 508 N.E.2d 136, 515 N.Y.S.2d 424 (1987); see Saint Nicholas Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in N. Am. v. Kedroff, 302 NY 1, 96 N.E.2d 56 (1950).

In Kamchi, "an allegation essential to much of the plaintiff's action is that the defendants violated the Religious Corporations Law, as well as the Congregation's bylaws." Kamchi, at 151.