The bizarre Huntsman lawsuit against the Church over tithing

I want to recommend this excellent article from Public Square Magazine regarding James Huntsman’s strange lawsuit against the Church regarding tithing.

Here are the key paragraphs:

Huntsman sets the tone for his lawsuit in the very first paragraph by including a bizarre quote about honesty from early Church leader Brigham Young. Throughout the complaint, Huntsman put his personal outrage and the most salacious details in a bold-italicized font so that anyone perusing the suit could quickly get a sense of the purported “fraud” and “greed.”

For 13 pages, Huntsman rambles on without specificity, without evidence, and without explaining how he personally was harmed—the cornerstone of any civil action. In legal terms, Huntsman failed to plead sufficient facts to state a claim for fraud and thus his complaint is deficient. The Court will have no choice but to dismiss the lawsuit. Huntsman’s clumsy and bumbling complaint signifies to me that he filed this suit merely as a publicity stunt without any sincere intent to recover his monies.

The writer is a former outside counsel to the Church who knows her stuff. More from the piece:

James Huntsman knows his tithing donations were voluntary and fall under the legal definition of a gift. He knows the Church has no legal obligation to return his tithing. He knows that the return of his tithing has tax implications, and he would most likely have to file years of amended tax returns to remove any deduction claimed.

But most importantly, I believe Huntsman knows that if he had sincerely sent his tithing refund request to Church leadership, they would have absolutely worked with him toward a positive resolution. There is no plausible reason Huntsman needed to file a baseless, improperly pleaded claim in federal court other than in an attempt to embarrass the Church. The only person who should be embarrassed is James Huntsman.

Huntsman’s lawsuit will certainly go down in history as another weird chapter in the “people lose their minds when they get angry at the Church” story. That story started in the days of Joseph Smith and continues, sadly, today.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

9 thoughts on “The bizarre Huntsman lawsuit against the Church over tithing

  1. I am reminded of the lawsuit filed against President Monson in England a few years ago by a former British member. The magistrate ruled that it lacked merit and threw it out. This lawsuit from Huntsman is headed for the same result.

    One thing the British legal system has to discourage frivolous lawsuits is the option for the judge to force the plaintiff to be held liable the defendant’s legal costs. In the case against President Monson, the magistrate elected not to use this option and I imagine that the Church’s lawyers didn’t seek it either. Nevertheless, I’d like us to adopt this judicial tool in the US to prevent a person or entity from being sued into oblivion for the legal costs they have to endure or, as in this case, from using the legal system as a means of generating publicity.

  2. An article I read mentioned Huntsman’s outrage over the church’s investment in City Creek Center and the Ensign Peak Advisors’ funds.

    Even with what little financial knowledge I have about real estate, asset management, and investing, (I used to work for an insirance company, and do have a knack for math), I can see the church administration’s wisdom in accumulating real estate and income-producing assets in order to fund/build, operate, maintain, and protect the income-consuming assets of chapels and temples world-wide.

    I’m sorry he lost his testimony, but the things he complianed about (at least those two things) do make strategic financial sense in the long term.

  3. Book, malls are no longer income producing assets. Even high end malls (if City Creek is considered high end, not sure) are having trouble and the future looks grim. The Brethren are about a decade behind that now cratering business model. But, think I their focus was aesthetic more than financial, though I don’t think they saw how fast the Mall business model would be almost turned on its head (thank you Amazon and a Pandemic). It’s us Members who are trying to reverse engineer their rationale for the Mall and other downtown development. In the end, as a business proposition, I think City Creek will not be a success for the Church’s or Ensign Peak’s balance sheets. Even so, the Church will be just fine.

    That’s okay by me. I don’t expect the Brethren to get everything right, though the guys (I doubt there any women) running Ensign Peak are very impressive and the envy of the financial world. Whatever they’re doing they should keep it up. I look forward to reading about 200 or 300 billion!

  4. rb,

    I agree that the indoor mall concept is on the way out. Just type “dead mall” into YouTube’s search bar and see the number of channel owners giving tours of countless numbers of those places. Long-term, I think the concept will retain some small shadow of its heyday viability. Malls with solid anchors that are extremely well positioned at the confluence of major traffic arteries (such as Fashion Place in Murray, UT) continue to generate brisk business. Unfortunately, malls sited deeper in downtown zones like City Creek will likely continue to fade.

    The Church will not accept the immediate environs of its HQ falling into dilapidation. It should be remembered that the Church started construction on City Creek not long before the Great Recession of 2008 struck. The Church kept the project going through it all until completion–keeping thousands of construction and other jobs going. From what I was able to glean from press information and connected friends, there was never any question that the multi-use project (not just a mall) was going to stand.

    The tremendous amount of misinformation out there about how the Church functions in these deals has bothered me for some time. I don’t specialize in tax law, but as someone with two decades of experience in financial regulation, I can share a few facts:

    The tax and finance-related details of non-profit project finance are highly complex, but a bare-bones description of one commonly used technique is as follows: The Church (since it cannot itself engage in profit-seeking business operations) will make first-position secured loans at a zero rate of interest to the for-profit subsidiary that is the managing entity of the project. The Church’s principal is paid back according to priority rules and schedules similar to those prevalent in construction financing. Any profits generated by the managing entity’s operations are subject to taxation and the after-tax earnings are returned to the control of the Church.

    Anybody who thinks the Church’s motive in revamping its immediate environment was a cynical drive to convert sacred funds into sordid profit is disconnected from all reality. The choices available to the Church were either to save its neighborhood or to pack up the whole gigantic enterprise and go looking for some other promised land absolutely guaranteed to be a better neighborhood. The Church, prudently, chose the former option.

    P.S. Mr. Huntsman, my tithing covenant is between me and the Lord. He invited me to make Him prove that his promises were sure. For the 40 years I’ve been paying it, those promises have been richly kept beyond what I could have expected. If the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes decides to convert my share of the tithing to cash, stack it up on the plaza between the church office buildings and toss a match to it, what is that to me?

  5. rb,

    When I heard about the $100 billion in investment holdings at Ensign Peak my first thought was similar to yours: “That’s probably a bit inflated in order to enhance the shock value. But, what the heck! Let’s see if we get it to $200 billion!”

  6. Ensign Peak to the moon!

    More seriously, though, this reminds me of one of Meg’s little parables she shared some time ago about a relative of hers that was terminally ill and stopped being able to physically tolerate nourishment from normal food. Meg likened that to spiritually ill people growing less and less able to tolerate spiritual things. Of all the things I’ve read here at M*, this is the one that has stuck with me hardest, and it’s the one I’ve seen duplicated again and again. This Huntsman foolishness is just the latest example.

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