Church Property

School board seeks to cancel church’s contract to buy abandoned property.

Can a school board cancel a contract to sell an abandoned public school building to a predominantly black church because of opposition by neighboring landowners?

No, concluded a federal district court in Illinois. Under Illinois law, school boards are authorized to sell unused school buildings at public sales. In 1987, an unused school building was offered for sale by a school board, and the church was the high bidder. A contract was executed, and a closing date was set. Between the sale and closing date, there was a public outcry by many white residents because the school building was being sold to a black church.

A few days prior to the closing date, the church presented to the school board the cash amount due at closing under the sales contract, but the school board refused to accept it. A few weeks later the school board attempted to "null and void" its contract with the church, and the church immediately filed a lawsuit charging the school board with breach of contract and violations of civil rights laws.

The school board asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, and the court declined. It ruled that the school board could be sued on account of the alleged breach of contract and violations of civil rights laws, and that the individual members of the school board could be sued as well.

It observed that "[a] plaintiff may pursue damages against a defendant in his individual capacity by alleging that the defendant acted or failed to act with a deliberate or reckless disregard of the plaintiff's constitutional rights or that the conduct causing the deprivation occurred at his direction or with his knowledge and consent." New Christian Valley M.B. Church v. School District 149, 704 F. Supp. 868 (N.D. Ill. 1989).

See also Personal injuries—on church property or during church activities, Clark v. Moore Memorial United Methodist Church, 538 So.2d 760 (Miss. 1989); Employment practices, Senate Bill 933.

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