Appeals court reinstates James Huntsman’s lawsuit for return of tithing he paid as a Latter-day Saint
Aug 8, 2023, 1:06 PM | Updated: Jan 17, 2024, 1:31 pm
(Steve Griffin, Deseret News)
SAN FRANCISCO — In a split decision, an appeals court on Monday reinstated part of the case of a man seeking the return of tithing he paid to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
By a 2-1 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed a lower court’s decision to throw out James Huntsman’s lawsuit over $5 million in tithing he said he paid the church over a quarter of a century.
A U.S. District Court judge granted the church’s motion for summary judgment in September 2021 and dismissed the lawsuit, which alleged the church defrauded its members by using tithing funds for purposes other than charitable purposes. Huntsman’s suit repeated others’ allegations that the church used $1.4 billion in tithing funds to help pay for City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City and $594 million in tithing funds to bolster Beneficial Financial Group during the 2008 financial crisis.
Church leaders have maintained that tithing funds are used for religious purposes. The church repeated its position that it used reserve funds in those instances in a statement about Monday’s ruling.
“The Court of Appeals decision returns part of this case to the trial court for further handling,” church spokesman Sam Penrod said. “As we have previously stated, there was no fraud. The church did exactly what President Gordon B. Hinckley said when it invested earnings on reserve funds in the City Creek project. The church looks forward to defending these facts in the next phase of the legal process.”
The church of more than 17 million members maintains reserve funds to cover the operations of hundreds of temples, its global missionary work, more than 30,000 congregations and five colleges and universities.
“In fact, tithing was not used on the City Creek project,” a church spokesman said when Huntsman filed the lawsuit in 2021. “As President Hinckley said in the April 2003 general conference of the church, the funds came from ‘commercial entities owned by the church’ and the ‘earnings of invested reserve funds.’ A similar statement was made by President Hinckley in the October 2004 general conference. Mr. James Huntsman’s claim is baseless.”
Monday’s ruling showed that two judges on the appeals court found there was sufficient reason for a jury to hear Huntsman’s claims.
Beneficial is a life insurance company owned by the church’s for-profit arm, Deseret Management Corp., which also owns the Deseret News.
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