HOUSTON – A Texas appeals court recently affirmed a Freemason Grand Lodge's ownership of property and assets of a constituent lodge in Houston, despite assertions to the contrary by members of that lodge.
The Texas 1st District Court of Appeals affirmed the Harris County trial court's judgment that True Level Masonic Lodge No. 226 continues as it has since the early 20th century and that the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas never accepted the lodge's attempt to surrender its charter.
"Based on the [grand lodge's] constitution, and as stated in the trial court's judgment, the original constituent lodge was 'entitled to possession of all property, both real and personal, of every kind or nature, where ever situated' which had been acquired by True Level Lodge No. 226 and the independent lodge was not entitled to any of the property," the appeals court said in its April 3 memorandum and opinion. "This was not a conveyance of real or personal property to the grand lodge. It was a declaration that the grand lodge was and always had been the beneficial owner of all property owned by its constituent lodge, which never ceased to exist. Because True Level Lodge No. 226 never ceased to exist, it continued to be the legal owner of the property."
Texas 1st District Court of Appeals Justice Michael Massengale wrote the court's 15-page opinion in which Justices Laura Carter Higley and Russell Lloyd concurred.
The case was filed against the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas and Jurisdictions Free and Accepted Masons by True Level Masonic Lodge No. 226 Inc. members Gregory August, Johnnie L. Jones, Mack Prince Deshay and Arthur C. Mays. August, Jones, Deshay and Mays are worshipful master, financial secretary, senior warden and past master of the lodge respectively as of 2013, according to information on the lodge's website.
The case stems from True Level Lodge's refusal to comply with the Grand Lodge's April 2013 request that all of its constituent lodges to identify what properties it may own and provide an Employee Identification Number to indicate the lodge operated as a nonprofit, according to the background portion of the appeals court's ruling.
"True Level Lodge No. 226 refused to provide the information, responding that its ownership of land was a matter of 'public record,' and its 'land or property' was 'not to be used or included in documentation to secure or obtain any loans or financial gains without the express written consent' of the members or officers," the ruling said.
After the Grand Lodge allegedly gave the True Level Lodge members three days to comply with its request, members of the lodge met and agreed to refuse the request. True Level Lodge members then wrote to the Grand Lodge "saying that concerns about lack of confidentiality drove their decision not to disclose the EIN," the opinion said.
"They declared that Article XVI, § 22 of the [Grand Lodge's] constitution was not binding upon them or their lodge, and they asserted sole ownership over all property belonging to True Level Lodge No. 226. Finally, they declared that their charter had been returned by mail and they intended to fully and immediately sever ties with the Grand Lodge."
The Grand Lodge expelled August, Jones, Deshay and Mays, who had established their own independent lodge, True Level Masonic Lodge No. 226 Inc., for "unmasonic behavior." The case was filed soon after with members of True Level Lodge maintaining that they wanted to continue under a similar name, in the same building on Lyons Avenue in Houston and wanted to retain the lodge's assets.
The 133rd District Court in Harris County handed down a declaratory judgment in favor of the Grand Lodge against members of True Level Masonic Lodge No. 226 Inc. following a jury trial. The district court granted the Grand Lodge's request for a directed verdict and ruled the members of True Level Lodge had not properly surrendered their its charter and, so, was entitled to all of its property and its name.
Mays, et al. appealed, arguing the trial court violated the state's fraud laws and included "a property description too vague to be implemented without the aid of extrinsic evidence," the appeals court ruling said.
"In their second issue, they argue that the court erred by determining that the original constituent lodge had a superior right to use the name 'True Level Lodge No. 226,'" the order states.
In its opinion affirming the district court's ruling in favor of the Grand Lodge, the appeals court also affirmed the district court's ruling that the existing True Level Lodge No. 226 had a superior claim to the property and assets over that of the newer independent lodge.
"Moreover, the appellants have not challenged the take-nothing judgment against them on their trespass-to-try-title cause of action against the Grand Lodge," the appeals court's ruling said. "As such, that part of the trial court’s judgment is final."