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Sharpless v. Medford Monthly Meeting of Religious Society of Friends

Decided: October 5, 1988.

FRANCIS SHARPLESS, TRUSTEE UPPER EVESHAM PREPARATIVE MEETING AND EDWARD C. JENNINGS, TRUSTEE MEDFORD MONTHLY MEETING OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS, JOSEPH B. ENGLE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
MEDFORD MONTHLY MEETING OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS, MIDLANTIC NATIONAL BANK, IRWIN KIMMELMAN, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Burlington County.

Antell, Havey and Brochin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Havey, J.A.D.

Havey

[228 NJSuper Page 71] Plaintiffs appeal from a final judgment permitting defendant Medford Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Medford Meeting) to combine graveyard trust funds and to apply part of the trust income for meeting purposes other than the maintenance of graveyard sites. The issue raised is whether the doctrine of cy pres may be applied to the surplus trust income so as to permit Medford Meeting, as trustee, to utilize the surplus for general meeting purposes. We conclude that the doctrine does apply and therefore affirm.

Plaintiff Francis Sharpless was a member of the former Upper Evesham Preparative Meeting (Union Street Meeting), a Quaker preparative meeting which owned a meeting house and graveyard situate on Union Street in Medford. Plaintiffs Edward C. Jennings and Joseph B. Engle were members of the former Medford Preparative Meeting of Friends (Main Street Meeting), which owned and maintained a meeting house and graveyard on Main Street in Medford. Both meetings existed as separate entities prior to 1971 because of a doctrinal schism which existed within Quakerism.

The Union Street Meeting established a graveyard fund in 1911 by soliciting contributions from members to care for and maintain its graveyard. A trust for that purpose was created with the Burlington County National Bank of Medford in 1943. Thereafter, the trust received bequests and gifts which, according to Sharpless, were made for the specific purpose of maintaining the graveyard. In 1986, the trust had income of $18,412.57 and expenses of $1,376.34. As of January 26, 1987, the estimated market value of the Union Street graveyard trust was $177,026.01.

The Main Street Meeting graveyard fund was originated in 1922 when a specific bequest of $2,000 was made by the will of Elizabeth J. Shreve for the purpose of keeping the Main Street burial ground in good order "and any balance of income left over to assist in keeping the Meeting House and grounds . . . in good order and repair." A trust was created in 1970 for the purpose of "the upkeep of the graveyard" with a proviso that if the meeting house was in need of repairs, monies could be used from the trust under carefully circumscribed conditions. In 1986, the Main Street trust produced income of $9,898.25 and incurred expenses of $934.73. As of January 26, 1987 the trust had a total value of $85,177.

In 1971, doctrinal differences between the meetings were resolved and they merged under the corporate charter of the Society of Friends of Medford, which later changed its name to

defendant Medford Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Medford Meeting adopted as its bylaws the Book of Faith and Practice, which in part recited the manner by which its trustees would retain meeting assets and administer meeting funds.

In 1985, Medford Meeting discussed the possibility of using the excess income from the two funds for purposes other than the maintenance of the two graveyards. Sharpless took an unbending position that the Union Street fund, which he administered, could not be used for any purpose other than the maintenance of the Union Street graveyard. Plaintiffs thereupon filed the present declaratory judgment action seeking permanent restraints and to determine the rights and obligations of the respective parties with respect to graveyard funds. Medford Meeting counterclaimed seeking a declaration that excess income could be used for general meeting purposes, that the two funds could be combined, and naming it as trustee of the combined funds.

After a bench trial, Judge Wells concluded that the two funds were charitable trusts, the principal purpose of which was to care for and preserve the Union and Main Street graveyards. Declining to apply the cy pres doctrine, the judge concluded that the probable intent of the donors of the respective funds was that excess income could be used for general church purposes other than graveyard maintenance. The judge thereupon appointed Medford Meeting trustee of the funds, permitted the combination of the funds for purposes of administration, and empowered Medford Meeting to use any excess income "for such other religious and charitable purposes as the Meeting, through its . . . governing body may determine." He also ordered regular accountings of the trust, guided by the recommendations of a committee and by the Book of Faith and Practice.

On appeal, plaintiffs contend that use of excess income for general meeting purposes conflicts with ...


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