• Key point. Members of churches that are incorporated under state nonprofit corporation law often are given a limited right to inspect corporate records. This right is subject to a number of important requirements and limitations.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a state nonprofit corporation law giving members the right to inspect corporate records only applied to certain records. While the case involved a state bar association, it will be relevant to church leaders because many churches are incorporated under similar laws giving members a right to inspect corporate records. The facts of the case are simple. Two attorneys asked their state bar association to release 30 different categories of documents pertaining to evaluations of statewide judicial candidates. The bar association is a nonprofit corporation incorporated under state law. The nonprofit corporation law contains the following provision pertaining to members' right to inspect corporate records:
Every member shall, upon written demand under oath stating the purpose thereof, have a right to examine, in person or by agent or attorney, during the usual hours for business for any proper purpose, the membership register, books and records of account, and records of the proceedings of the members, directors and such other body, and to make copies or extracts therefrom. A proper purpose shall mean a purpose reasonably related to the interest of such person as a member. In every instance where an attorney or other agent shall be the person who seeks the right to inspection, the demand under oath shall be accompanied by a power of attorney or such other writing which authorizes the attorney or other agent to so act on behalf of the member. The demand under oath shall be directed to the corporation at its registered office in this Commonwealth or at its principal place of business wherever situated. 15 Pa. C.S. section 5508(b).