Orange County Court rules a deed restriction given by the original grantor of the land to the church that requires it only to be used for religious purposes is not enforceable.
A California court has handed the Bishop of Los Angeles a legal victory in his battle with members of St James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach last week, ruling that a deed restriction given by the original grantor of the land to the church was not enforceable. On 14 May 2016 the Orange County Superior Court Judge David Chaffee held that a deed restriction placed on the land had expired in 1987. In 1945 real estate developer The Griffith Company donated land on Lido Isle in Newport Beach to the diocese for the express purpose of building a church. Should the land no longer be used for ecclesial purposes title would revert back to The Griffith Company. In 1984 The Griffith Company agreed to lift the restriction to allow the construction of a parking lot, however only part of the property was covered by the agreement. In 2015 the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno announced he had entered into an agreement with the Legacy Corporation to sell the church, which was home to an active and growing congregation, for $15 million. Legacy planned on demolishing the church and building condominiums in the exclusive waterfront area. The Griffith Company challenged the sale citing the deed restriction, while members of the congregation filed a complaint in the church’s courts alleging the bishop had lied to them and engaged in unethical conduct. In its ruling the court held that a law enacted by the California legislature required deed restrictions to be refilled every 30 years. For restrictions already in place, the new law allowed a five year window for their renewal — requiring The Griffith Company to renew the restriction by 1987, which they did not. The court held the failure of The Griffith Company to renew the restriction extinguished its claim. Bishop Bruno is now free to sell the property free of the restriction that the land be only used for religious purposes, however, Legacy Partners — the developer — has stated that its offer to purchase the land has expired and no contract for sale currently exists on the property. Attorneys for The Griffith Company are reviewing the ruling and its is unclear whether they will appeal the decision. Even though the property is no longer under contract for sale, Bishop Bruno continues to prevent its use by the congregation. After being locked out of the parish shortly after the bishop announced he was selling the building in May 2015, the congregation met across the street in a park and then at the Gray Matter Museum of Art in Costa Mesa. In March the congregation moved its Sunday services to the Newport Beach Community Center, but the Lido Isle property still stands vacant. The diocese did not respond to requests for comments.