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Jefferson City — Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown allowed the Missouri Baptist Convention to file a fourth amended petition in a lawsuit against five institutions at a hearing Aug. 7 — but only after he struck two items in it.

The judge struck a prima facie tort — an intent to harm -- count and conspiracy claims from the amended petition in response to a motion filed by Missouri Baptist University.

Now in its fourth year, the case alleges that trustees for MBU, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Word&Way and The Baptist Home did not have the legal right to change corporate charters to allow the entities to elect their own trustees.

Trustees for The Home changed its charter in 2000, with board members for the other four taking similar action in 2001.

On June 12, Judge Brown had directed the convention to file the fourth amendment in response to an MBU motion that requested clarification of breach of contract claims. At that time, the court also dismissed conspiracy charges against the five entities.

A prima facie tort can be filed when a party believes that a lawful action was taken for malicious reasons to intentionally hurt that party. The convention's tort claim requested that even if the court determines the five entities did have a legal right to change their charters, then the court should rule in the MBC's favor on the grounds that the changes were made because the trustees intended to harm the convention.

“We believe malice was done in this case and would like to try to prove it,”¯ MBC attorney G. Stanton Masters argued at the Aug. 7 hearing.

MBU attorney Clyde Farris called the tort count “another way to prolong and complicate”¯ the lawsuit. “What they claim to have been bad conduct”¦is the amendment of the charters,”¯ he said.

In its fourth petition, the MBC also reintroduced conspiracy claims. Masters argued the convention needed to leave those claims in the lawsuit to “preserve”¯ them or it would “risk having to abandon”¯ them.

Judge Brown stuck the conspiracy claims because he had not granted the convention permission to include them in the fourth amended petition.

He had dismissed those claims at a June 27 hearing. At that time, he included a provision for the MBC to appeal on that point as the rest of the case moved forward. Later, convention attorneys asked the provision to be removed, but left open the option to appeal on that count when the judge rules on the entire lawsuit or it reaches trial.

At the Aug. 7 hearing, Judge Brown also granted an MBU request for mediation between the university and the MBC. A date for those talks has not yet been set. (08-11-06)

 
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