Victory for Tiny Buddhist Church in California Court of Appeals

The Buddhist Channel, October 15, 2007

Los Angeles, CA (USA) -- In a classic David vs. Goliath battle, a tiny Buddhist church won over the vast resources of a giant institution.  The California Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Jodo Shu Betsuin (Betsuin) and overturned the Superior Court’s summary judgment decision.

Betsuin can now proceed to trial against Jodoshu North America Buddhist Missions (JNABM), a foreign owned Buddhist corporation, for refusing to return Betsuin property and dissolution of partnership.

In a decision involving property ownership and partnership between religious institutions, Division Five of the Second Appellate District of California, reversed the decision of the Superior Court of Los Angeles and ruled in favor of Betsuin of Los Angeles, a locally owned and operated Buddhist church, that Betsuin’s claims for conversion of property and dissolution of partnership did not involve any religious disputes and that there were sufficient issues of fact to require a trial in the Superior Court.

On September 4, 2007, the Betsuin attorney, James R. Ebert, successfully argued in the Appellate Court on several causes of actions. In a classic battle between David vs. Goliath of the poor and small versus the rich and powerful, the Betsuin with its small law firm of only two attorneys defeated JNABM and its large law firm of more than 800 attorneys with its vast resources to remand this case back to the Superior Court.

The Betsuin released the following statement: “For several years, JNABM used the First Amendment to justify its immoral actions and wrongful possession of Betsuin property. The Appellate Court affirmed what we always believed; the question of property and partnership is a matter to be settled in the California Courts. The Betsuin will show at trial that we are the rightful owner of property that JNABM now possesses. As Americans, we look forward to our day in court and to justice.

Jodo Shu Betsuin was founded to serve Japanese Americans in the Los Angeles Area. Since 1936, when the late Bishop Reikai Nozaki first established the Betsuin in Little Tokyo, Betsuin has provided Jodo Shu Buddhist religious services to the Japanese American community. Jodo Shu Betsuin is a non-profit, religious corporation that has provided Jodo Shu Buddhist services to the community for 70 years.

Betsuin originally had its own temple near USC and had priceless ancient personal property in its own temple. Betsuin sold its old temple building to help raise the funds needed to purchase new property and finance a portion of the new temple at 442 East Third Street in Little Tokyo.

Betsuin then installed its personal property in the new temple building and paid for one-third (?) of all operating expenses for the next eleven (11) years. JNABM abruptly evicted Betsuin, excommunicated all Betsuin members, and kept all of the Betsuin personal ancient property in the new temple.

Since evicting the Betsuin members, JNABM has struggled with fundraising since the Betsuin members are loyal to retired Bishop Satoru Kawai and the JNABM priests are unable to communicate in English.

JNABM has spent substantial legal fees (which they have not revealed to their members) to try to destroy Betsuin to fight this lawsuit. The Betsuin members are humble and ordinary people, including gardeners, mechanics, vegetable packers, secretaries, and engineers. Bishop Sodeyama in Japan admitted during his deposition that he originated the scheme to evict Betsuin from the temple. Archbishop Mizutani in Japan has been beset by scandals, including the apparent embezzlement of $7 million.

Betsuin attempted to resolve the matter by filing a claim in Jodo Shu Japan’s religious court, but Betsuin’s claim was summarily rejected by Jodo Shu Japan.

The Betsuin members are elderly and are heartbroken that they have been evicted, but resolute that they are entitled to their property rights and other legal rights in California courts.