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Members of Grand Lodge of State v. The Elected Board of Directors of Grand Lodge of State

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

February 6, 2019

MEMBERS OF THE GRAND LODGE OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
THE ELECTED BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE GRAND LODGE OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 784-688, DIVISION "H" HONORABLE GLENN B. ANSARDI, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, MEMBERS OF THE GRAND LODGE OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA Jason C. Bruzik

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, THE ELECTED BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE GRAND LODGE OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA J. Keith Gates, Lloyd E. Hennigan, Jr.

          Panel composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Jude G. Gravois, and Marc E. Johnson

          JUDE G. GRAVOIS, JUDGE

         Appellants/defendants, the Grand Lodge of the State of Louisiana (the "Grand Lodge"), [1] its Grand Master, Guy Jenkins, and its Deputy Grand Master, Martin Reinschmidt, appeal a trial court's judgment that denied their dilatory exception of prematurity and granted the petition for injunctive relief and declaratory judgment filed by appellees/plaintiffs, three members of the Grand Lodge. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the trial court's denial of defendants' exception of prematurity, vacate the trial court's grant of plaintiffs' petition for injunctive relief and declaratory judgment, grant defendants' exception of prematurity, and dismiss plaintiffs' petition without prejudice.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 12, 2018, Frank Du Treil, Jason C. Bruzik, and Wesley Cognevich, [2]members of the Grand Lodge, filed a petition for injunctive relief and declaratory judgment against Guy Jenkins, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge; Martin Reinschmidt, the Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge; and the Grand Lodge. According to the petition, by letters dated May 9, 2018, the Grand Lodge "threatened" plaintiffs' memberships in the organization. Thereafter, Mr. Du Treil and Mr. Bruzik were allegedly suspended by act of the Grand Master without adherence to the procedures set out in Article VII of the General Regulations entitled "Trials, Punishments and Appeals" found in the "Handbook of Masonic Law" ("HOML"), which breached an alleged contract between the parties. Plaintiffs sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions: 1) requiring that their memberships be returned and/or preserved until the procedures of Article VII of the HOML could be followed; 2) ensuring they could speak at the upcoming annual Grand Lodge Communication; and 3) ensuring that all resolutions submitted to the Membership would be considered. On June 12, 2018, the temporary restraining order as requested by plaintiffs was granted.

         On June 15, 2018, defendants filed a dilatory exception of prematurity, asserting that a member of a corporation or association must exhaust all internal remedies available to members before an action can be filed in a court of law. In their exception, defendants contended that there are two ways that a member/mason can be suspended from the association: by trial brought in the subject mason's local lodge, pursuant to Article VII of the HOML, or by suspension by the Grand Master pursuant to Article IV of the HOML. Defendants asserted that plaintiffs were properly suspended by the Grand Master pursuant to Section 2 of Article IV of the HOML. Defendants argued that under that Section, plaintiffs still had the right to present evidence and testimony as to their innocence before the Grand Lodge's Appeals and Grievances Committee. Then, if necessary, the voting delegates at the next Grand Lodge Communication would determine by a two-thirds vote as to whether or not plaintiffs should remain suspended.

         A hearing on plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction and a declaratory judgment and defendants' exception of prematurity was conducted before the trial court on June 26, 2018.[3] Following the hearing, the trial court denied the exception of prematurity, finding that defendants breached their contract with plaintiffs when defendants suspended plaintiffs without following proper procedures, and therefore, the case was ripe for presentation to the court. The trial court then granted plaintiffs' petition for injunctive relief and declaratory judgment insofar as defendants "shall not prohibit [Mr.] Bruzik and [Mr.] Du Treil's full and complete participation and unrestricted access to the annual Grand Lodge meeting of June 28, 2018, in accordance with the rules of order and procedures of the Grand Lodge." As to Mr. Cognevich, the trial court found that since he was not suspended, he would be allowed the same complete and unrestricted participation in the upcoming Grand Lodge meeting. Finally, the trial court found that any further action against Mr. Bruzik and Mr. Du Treil must be taken under the provisions of Article VII (rather than Article IV) of the HOML.[4] This suspensive appeal followed.

         On appeal, defendants assert the following assignments of error:

1. The trial court erred as a matter of law in denying defendants' dilatory exception of prematurity.
2. The trial court erred as a matter of law by not interpreting and applying provisions of the HOML as written and consistently construed by the Grand Lodge according to Masonic custom and usage.
3. The trial court erred as a matter of law in granting a declaratory judgment because that judgment was predicated upon the trial court's erroneous construction of the HOML.
4. The trial court erred as a matter of law in granting injunctive relief because plaintiffs did not prove any judicially cognizable harm, injury, ...

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