An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Proced ure.

NO. COA02-1376


Filed: 4 November 2003

capacity as Members of the
Deacon Board of GREENFIELD

v .                         Granville County
                            No. 02 CVS 96
                            No. 01 CVD 336

    Appeal by plaintiffs from judgment entered 16 July 2002 by Judge James C. Spencer, Jr., in Superior Court in Granville County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 19 August 2003.

    Michaux & Michaux, P.A., by Eric C. Michaux, for plaintiff- appellants.

    Wallace W. Bradsher, for defendant-appellee. No brief filed for defendant-appellee.

    HUDSON, Judge.

    This appeal arises from consolidated lawsuits pending between Reverend Richard E. Jackson (“Rev. Jackson”) and several named deacons (“the deacons”) of Greenfield Missionary Baptist Church, who are defendants-appellees in the instant action. Greenfield Missionary Baptist Church (“the Church”) is a congregational church in Granville County. In December 2000, Rev. Jackson was hired bythe deacons of the church to serve as their minister for the 2001 calendar year. In accordance with the church by-laws, Rev. Jackson entered into a one-year employment contract. During the early months of 2001, conflicts arose between the deacons and Rev. Jackson, resulting in these lawsuits. The deacons appeal from the trial court's ruling that an employment contract existed between Rev. Jackson and the deacons for the calendar year 2002. As explained below, we dismiss this appeal as moot.
     On 10 February 2001, the church congregation held a meeting, during which certain deacons were voted out of their positions in the church. The deacons disputed the propriety of the notice and conduct of the meeting, and the validity of the vote to remove them, while Rev. Jackson sought to prevent the deacons from taking further actions, including removing him, on behalf of the church.
    On 22 March 2001, Rev. Jackson sued five of the deacons in district court (No. 01 CVD 336). He asked the court to enjoin them from voting to remove him from his post, and to declare that the deacons had been lawfully removed. The deacons each answered and counterclaimed, asking the court to declare that they were not validly removed, and that Rev. Jackson “is no longer the pastor” of the church.
    Later in 2001, the deacons alleged that Rev. Jackson had engineered an attempt to have the congregation change the church by-laws to extend the term of employment for ministers from one to three years. The congregation voted for such a change, and then, through the church's board of trustees, offered Rev. Jackson athree-year contract of employment to commence at the expiration of his current contract on 31 December 2001. Rev. Jackson accepted this offer.
    In late 2001, the deacons, also purporting to act on behalf of the church, offered Rev. Jackson a one-year employment contract to commence at the expiration of his current contract on 31 December 2001. Rev. Jackson rejected this offer. In early 2002, after the expiration of his original employment contract, Rev. Jackson claimed that he continued to be employed as minister of the church pursuant to the three-year contract from the trustees, while the deacons insisted that there was no contract at all between the church and Rev. Jackson. On 2 February 2002, the deacons, again purporting to act on behalf of the church, filed suit in superior court (No. 02 CVS 96), seeking a declaration that Rev. Jackson was no longer under contract to serve as the church's minister, and other relief. In response, Rev. Jackson contended that the deacons had been removed from office and no longer had authority to act for the church. The two cases were consolidated in superior court.
    Thereafter, both parties moved for summary judgment. On 12 July 2002, the trial court granted partial summary judgment to each party. The court made extensive findings of fact, and thereupon concluded, among other things, that the deacons retained their offices with the church, that both the deacons and Rev. Jackson had intended that he be employed as the church's minister for the calendar year 2002, and thus a contract existed between the parties for that time period. The court concluded that there was no mutualagreement on any extension of the term of employment beyond the calendar year 2002. In its order for summary judgment, the court reserved the allocation of costs for subsequent determination if the parties were unable to resolve the issue.
    The deacons gave notice of appeal from the summary judgment order and moved for a stay to prevent Rev. Jackson and the church congregation from making any changes to the church's organization or operations until this appeal was decided. The stay was denied by both the superior court and this Court. Rev. Jackson did not cross-appeal or assign error to the court's refusal to extend the contract beyond one year.
    On 31 July 2002, the deacons filed a motion for reconsideration and for attorney's fees. On 14 August 2002, the court denied the motion for reconsideration, but ordered that the Church compensate counsel for both parties (the deacons and the reverend) for their respective costs and attorneys' fees. Rev. Jackson appealed that order, and his appeal is separately pending before this Court in Jackson v. Hawkins, et al., ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (No. 02-1578, filed ___ October 2003).
    On appeal, plaintiffs-appellants challenge the court's ruling that a contract of employment did exist between Reverend Jackson and the church for the calendar year 2002. They also challenge the propriety of the trial court's denial of a stay pending the final determination of the contract dispute. The purported contract at the center of this dispute expired 31 December 2002. That date having passed, the issues presented here are now moot.     “A case is 'moot' when a determination is sought on a matter which, when rendered, cannot have any practical effect on the existing controversy.” Roberts v. Madison County Realtors Ass'n., 344 N.C. 394, 398-99, 474 S.E.2d 783, 787 (1996) (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 1008 (6th ed. 1990). Here, because the disputed one-year contract has expired, a decision by this Court would have no practical effect on the controversy. Likewise, because the contract's terms have now expired, the correctness of the trial court's denial of plaintiffs' petition for stay, even if appealable where this Court has also denied a stay, is also moot.
    “Whenever during the course of litigation it develops that . . . the questions originally in controversy between the parties are no longer at issue, the case should be dismissed, for courts will not entertain an action merely to determine abstract propositions of law.” Simeon v. Hardin, 339 N.C. 358, 370, 451 S.E.2d 858, 866 (1994) (citations omitted). The Court may dismiss such actions ex mero motu. Stanley v. Department of Conservation & Dev., 284 N.C. 15, 29, 199 S.E.2d 641, 650 (1973). We do so here.

    For the reasons set forth above, we dismiss this appeal as moot.
    Judges WYNN and CALABRIA concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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