Tampa, Fla.—-February 13, 2023—A beloved Tampa K-12 educational institution is celebrating a long-fought victory in a court battle that threatened the continued existence of a 52-year-old school noted for academic achievement and educating the children of hard-working military and other families in Hillsborough County. The case, Board of Trustees of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church v. Bayshore Christian School, was litigated by firm Dalton & Tomich PLC representing Bayshore Christian School. The Hillsborough County (Tampa) jury found for Bayshore Christian School on February 9, 2023.
Lead attorney Daniel Dalton, a nationally known litigator whose practice includes working with churches and schools seeking to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church or otherwise settle disputes with the financially troubled denomination, along with Paige Greenly, Christine Davis, Kacy Donlon of Tampa and Zoe Grenfell of Dalton & Tomich, defended this case and successfully pursued a prescriptive easement claim against the Board of Trustees of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Since 1971, Bayshore Christian School has always been its own legal entity and its own school and has never been part of any religious denomination. While starting on the campus of the then-popular Bayshore United Methodist Church on MacDill Avenue, the school grew buying adjacent land and building structures to house the students. In 1986, the school gave three parcels of land to the church – two of which were fully developed with classrooms, a family life center, a gym, and related matters, in order to comply with local Tampa ordinances governing permitting and zoning prior to construction. With the knowledge of the Board of Trustees of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, the school continuously used all of the land it owned – and all of the land the church owned – for educational purposes for more than 51 years.
Ultimately, as the membership at the once thriving Bayshore United Methodist Church dwindled to 100 members, the Board of Trustees invoked the trust clause of the United Methodist Church to “take” the property, close the church and remove the 100 members from the Church property through an undefined charge of “exigent circumstances.”
“Through the testimony at trial, it was clear that the goal of the Board of Trustees of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church was to evict the thriving Bayshore Christian School from the property, and have the school pay millions of dollars to the Board, then sell the property to a developer for $19.2 million dollars to build 35 high end residential homes,” Dalton said. “In my opinion, this was clearly a desperate money grab by the Board of Trustees of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church as church membership in Florida and elsewhere continues its steep decline.”
According to records of the Florida Annual Conference in its yearly Journal, the United Methodist Church has closed well over 100 local Methodist churches since 2013, then sold the church property to remedy the financial shortfall that has resulted from a decline of more than 300,000 members in 2003 to merely 58,000 attenders in 2022 while its budget remained essentially the same. On top of this, additional local churches have since closed through a disaffiliation process, and over 100 local churches in the Florida Conference are now suing the Board of Trustees seeking to be released.
The testimony at trial is that the school and the church were the sole parties who bought the land, build the buildings, and maintained them since 1951. Further testimony at trial was that the Board of Trustees of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Inc. did not contribute a penny.
In addition to the school’s continuous and uninterrupted operations for more than 50 years, a key element to Dalton’s case was a 1986 deed written for the school which specifically addressed that should the Conference ever close the church and take the property, the school could remain on the property and continue using the same until it chose to close. Another key element was the article of incorporation establishing the school in 1971 that did not adhere to the requirements of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. And a third key element was a resolution between the church and school in 1991 that allowed the school to use all of the church property for free. The Board of Trustees of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Inc. had two decades to challenge the deed, the articles and the resolution – but failed to do so.
After four hours of deliberation, the jury found for Bayshore Christian School on the issue of the Prescriptive Easement, which allows someone other than the property owner to gain the rights to use a property (in this case, Bayshore United Methodist Church).
“With this verdict, Bayshore Christian School can remain in its current location and provide a quality Christian education in South Tampa for generations to come,” Dalton said.
The head of school, Mrs. Melanie Humanensky, celebrated the verdict for the school community.
“We are grateful for the verdict of the jury and look forward to continuing to provide exceptional educational opportunities to the students of Bayshore Christian School.”
About Bayshore Christian School
With 350 students from kindergarten through high school, Bayshore Christian School provides a quality education at an affordable price. The school serves the valiant and hard-working military families from nearby MacDill Airforce base and other families throughout Hillsborough County. The school offers advanced placement courses and dual enrollment courses at a local college. Most of its students are high level achievers who have gone on to attend military academies, Ivy League schools, and all of the institutions of higher learning throughout Florida.
About Dalton & Tomich PLC
Established in 2010, Dalton & Tomich PLC is the nation’s leader in protecting the religious property rights of faith communities and is comprised of religious liberty, land use, denominational trust law, and business law attorneys. Learn more about our services at https://www.daltontomich.com/.