TRUE LEVEL MASONIC LODGE #226, INC., GREGORY AUGUST, JOHNNIE L. JONES, MACK PRINCE DESHAY, AND ARTHUR C. MAYS, Appellants
MOST WORSHIPFUL PRINCE HALL GRAND LODGE OF TEXAS AND JURISDICTIONS FREE AND ACCEPTED MASONS, Appellee
Appeal from the 133rd District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 2013-59319
consists of Justices Higley, Massengale, and Lloyd.
Michael Massengale Justice.
an appeal from a declaratory judgment obtained by the
statewide governing body of a Masonic lodge. Members and
officers of True Level Lodge No. 226 attempted to surrender
their charter and continue their activities under a similar
name, operating from the same building with the same assets.
Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas and
Jurisdictions Free and Accepted Masons sought a declaratory
judgment to confirm the continuing existence of its
constituent lodge, the ownership of its assets, and the right
to use the name "True Level Lodge No. 226." After a
jury trial, the trial court granted a motion for directed
verdict, and it determined that the constituent lodge did not
properly surrender its charter, so it continued to exist, and
it was entitled to continued possession of all its property,
as well as the use of the name "True Level Lodge No.
226" to the exclusion of appellant True Level Masonic
Lodge No. 226, Inc.
August, Johnnie L. Jones, Mack Prince Deshay, and Arthur C.
Mays appealed, along with the independent lodge, raising
three issues. In their first issue, they contend that the
trial court's judgment is void because it violates the
statute of frauds and includes a property description too
vague to be implemented without the aid of extrinsic
evidence. In their second issue, they argue that the court
erred by determining that the original constituent lodge had
a superior right to use the name "True Level Lodge No.
226." In their third issue, they assert that the court
erred by admitting evidence of a witness's prior criminal
Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas and Jurisdictions
Free and Accepted Masons (the "Grand Lodge") is a
nonprofit, benevolent organization formed in 1875 in Texas to
regulate the practice of freemasonry, advance the moral and
social interests of its members, and encourage charitable
acts. True Level Lodge No. 226, the constituent lodge at
issue in this dispute, was established in 1905 as a voluntary
association, and in 1906 it became a local affiliate of the
Grand Lodge. The relationship between the two entities is
governed by the Grand Lodge's constitution, which
established broad powers over its constituent lodges. The
constitution establishes that constituent lodges are not
independent entities. It further provides that all property
of a constituent lodge is deemed to be held in trust for the
benefit of the Grand Lodge. When a constituent lodge
dissolves or ceases to function as a lodge, its ritual items,
money, and dues receivable will be collected by the Grand
Master or his authorized representative. Furniture, fixtures,
and other personal property may be sold to satisfy debts, if
any, and remaining proceeds will "accrue to the Grand
Grand Lodge's constitution requires that constituent
lodges give their membership ten days' written notice
before a vote on any "proposition that affects the
entire membership such as adopting By-Laws, consolidating
with another lodge, moving or building a hall, levying
assessments on membership, [or] buying or selling
property." Under the constitution, the Grand Lodge
retains "full authority to approve or disapprove such
transaction as each Local Lodge is a subsidiary or integral
part of the Grand Lodge and as such, Grand Master has full
authority in the premises." The Grand Master or the
Grand Lodge also has "full and final authority" to
determine whether a constituent lodge has ceased to function
due to "inactivity, demise, or dissolution."
April 2013, the Grand Lodge asked all constituent lodges to
identify lodge-owned property and provide an Employee
Identification Number (EIN) or other information indicating
that each lodge was operating as a nonprofit organization.
True Level Lodge No. 226 refused to provide the information,
responding that its ownership of land was a matter of
"public record, " and its "land or
property" was "not to be used or included in
documentation to secure or obtain any loans or financial
gains without the express written consent" of the
members or officers. Among its assets, True Level Lodge No.
226 owned four parcels of real property, including a lodge
building at 4212 Lyons Avenue, which was acquired in 1952.
The remaining real property was comprised of the properties
commonly known as: 4201 Lyons Avenue, 4200 New Orleans, and
1414 Copeland Street, all of which are located in Houston,
Texas. True Level Lodge No. 226 also owned a van. According
to the appellants, the Grand Master, Wilbert M. Curtis, told
August, who was then the leader of True Level Lodge No. 226,
that it had three days to comply with the request or
surrender its charter.
less than ten days' notice, August convened a meeting,
and the members decided to refuse the request. August and
Johnnie L. Jones, then-secretary of True Level Lodge No. 226,
wrote to the Grand Lodge, saying that concerns about lack of
confidentiality drove their decision not to disclose the EIN.
They declared that Article XVI, § 22 of the constitution
was not binding upon them or their lodge, and they asserted
sole ownership over all property belonging to True Level
Lodge No. 226. Finally, they declared that their charter had
been returned by mail and they intended to fully and
immediately sever ties with the Grand Lodge.
the Grand Lodge received the charter, the Grand Master
summoned the members of True Level Lodge No. 226 to a meeting
in Fort Worth regarding the attempted surrender of the
charter, explaining that the lodge had not notified the
membership or surrendered the charter properly as set forth
in the constitution. The Grand Master voided the actions
previously taken by True Level Lodge No. 226. Only one member
attended the meeting, and he paid dues and continued his
membership. August, Mays, Jones, and Deshay were expelled for
"unmasonic behavior." Among other things, this
behavior included entering into a repair contract, which
resulted in the imposition of a lien on the lodge building,
without the prior approval of the Grand Master. The Grand
Lodge later invited those members of True Level Lodge No. 226
who wished to remain affiliated to pay dues and elect new
officers. Thus, the Grand Lodge maintained that True Level
Lodge No. 226 continued to exist without August, Mays, Jones,
to the Grand Lodge, in October 2011, August, Mays, Jones,
Deshay, and others had formed a new entity called True Level
Masonic Lodge #226, Inc. (the "independent lodge").
After their expulsion, August, Mays, Jones, and Deshay
continued their communal and fraternal activities, operating
as "True Level Masonic Lodge, " "True Level
Lodge No. 226, " or "True Level Lodge 226, "
using the same lodge building and lodge assets as they had
before their expulsion. They later became affiliated with ...