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Board of Directors of the Washington City Orphan Asylum v. Board of Trustees of the Washington City Orphan Asylum

District of Columbia Court of Appeals

May 23, 2002


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-4613-00) (Hon. John H. Bayly, Jr., Trial Judge)

Before Steadman and Washington, Associate Judges, and Belson, Senior Judge.

Argued September 17, 2001


Belson, Senior Judge: This case presented the trial court with the difficult task of construing an 1828 Act of Congress that is far from clear. The statute incorporated a board of five trustees to constitute a corporation known as the Washington City Orphan Asylum, and assigned different authority and responsibilities to that board, appellee here, and to a second board, a board of directors and managers, our appellant. After working in apparent harmony for over a century and a half, the two boards fell into disagreement, with the result that the board of trustees has purported to oust the other board created by Congress. The trial court ruled that appellant board of directors and managers is without standing to sue over its ouster and, largely for that reason, alternatively ruled against that board's various claims on the merits. We hold that the purportedly ousted board has standing to sue, and we therefore remand the case to the trial court for both a further consideration of the appellant's claims on the merits and, incidental thereto, for such further consideration of the legislative history of the statute as available materials permit. *fn1


In 1815, the First Lady of the United States, Dolley Madison, and other prominent women in the District of Columbia founded the Washington City Orphan Asylum (WCOA) as an orphanage, and operated it in a non-incorporated form for a period of about thirteen years. Legislative history indicates that WCOA's founders attempted to incorporate in 1816, but were unsuccessful because the original proposed incorporators were married women who legally were prohibited from owning property at the time. On May 24, 1828, Congress adopted "[a]n Act to incorporate the trustees of the Female Orphan Asylum in Georgetown, and the Washington City Orphan Asylum in the District of Columbia." 6 Stat. 381, Chap. 88 (1828). The Female Orphan Asylum in Georgetown, created by the same Act of Congress, is an entirely separate entity and is not implicated here. The statute, except for two passages of marginal relevance, is set forth in the footnote. *fn2

Section 2 of the 1828 Act identifies five men and constitutes them, as well as their successors, "a corporation and body politic in law." The members of the current Board of Trustees (Trustees) of WCOA assert that they are the successors of the five incorporators. Section 3 prescribes that all property belonging to the unincorporated asylum be vested in the corporation, and authorizes the corporation to buy and sell property and to receive donations. Section 4 grants the corporation the ability "to sue and be sued" and "to appoint a treasurer and secretary, and such other officers as they may deem necessary and proper, to assign them their duties, and fix their compensation . . . and to make such by-laws as may be useful for the government of the said asylum . . . ."

Section 6 deals with the appointment and functions of directors, and states in part:

[T]here shall be appointed a first, and a second female directress, and also fifteen female managers; and these directresses and managers, a majority of whom shall be necessary to do business, at such time and place as they may direct, shall appoint a treasurer and secretary, and such other officers; and also perform such other duties as the by-laws may direct . . . .

Section 7 specifically provides to the directors additional authority regarding underage children who were not to leave the asylum without the consent of those directing the institution. The current members of the Board of Directors (Directors) of WCOA assert that they are the successors of the original directors and managers.

In 1927, WCOA began to operate under the name of "Hillcrest, A Children's Village." The only version of the so-called constitution of WCOA (actually by-laws) brought to the attention of this court is the constitution as amended in 1958. The 1958 constitution divided responsibilities between the Trustees and the Directors and provided that changes in the constitution required the concurrence of both boards. In the 1950s, Hillcrest ceased to operate an orphanage and, in 1970, Hillcrest ended its residential program entirely. Thereafter, WCOA continued to provide counseling services to destitute children in the District of Columbia under the name "Hillcrest Children's Center."

Hillcrest Children's Center's current mission is to provide counseling and psychiatric treatment to children and families in the District of Columbia. In March 1998, the Trustees informed the Directors that they would discontinue funding Hillcrest Children's Center and suggested that the Directors incorporate in order to operate it by themselves. By a board resolution of February 25, 2000, the Trustees repealed the constitution of WCOA and replaced it with new by-laws eliminating the role of the Board of Directors entirely. *fn3 The Trustees advised the Directors that funding for Hillcrest Children's Center would be terminated effective June 30, 2000.

On June 19, 2000, the Directors filed a complaint for injunctive relief and enforcement of trust, asserting that the Trustees in their governance of the corporation had engaged in breaches of fiduciary duty, arbitrary and capricious action, diversion of funds, conversion of funds, and ultra vires acts, and demanded an accounting. The Superior Court granted a preliminary injunction requiring the Trustees to continue to fund WCOA at the rate of approximately $20,000 per month. The Trustees then moved for a judgment on the pleadings, asserting that the Directors lacked standing and capacity to bring the action. The trial court granted the Trustees' motion for judgment on the pleadings, concluding that the Trustees constituted the "sole governing board" of WCOA and that, for that reason, the Directors lacked standing to pursue any claims against the corporation. In the alternative, the court granted a judgment for defendant Trustees on the merits which appeared to be a summary judgment because of the language used and because the court considered materials outside the pleadings. This timely appeal followed. Corporation Counsel, as amicus curiae, filed a brief arguing that the dismissal of the complaint for lack of standing should be reversed, but taking no position on the merits.


We turn first to the issue of standing or capacity to bring this action, as this threshold issue must be considered before we turn to the trial court's disposition of the merits. In Speyer v. Barry, 588 A.2d 1147, 1160 (D.C. 1991) (citation omitted), we stated that for a court to consider the merits of a case "the `constitutional' requirement of a `case or controversy' and the `prudential' prerequisites of standing" must be present. This court looks to federal standing jurisprudence to assist in the identification of cases and controversies that properly may be considered, although this court is not bound by "case or controversy" requirements set forth in Article III of the Constitution. See Fisher v. Government Employees Ins. Co., 762 A.2d 35, 38 n.7 (D.C. 2000); Community Credit Union Servs., Inc. v. Federal Express Servs. Corp., 534 A.2d 331, 333 (D.C. 1987) (citation omitted).

"[T]o meet the minimum requirements of a case and controversy, a plaintiff must show that it has suffered some actual or threatened injury as a result of the putatively illegal conduct of the defendant . . . that the injury fairly can be traced to the challenged action, and that it is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision." Community Credit Union, supra, 534 A.2d at 333 (citations and internal quotations omitted). "[U]nder prudential principles of standing, a plaintiff may assert only its own legal rights, may not attempt to litigate generalized grievances, and may assert only interests that fall within the zone of interests to be protected or regulated by the statute or constitutional guarantee in question." Id. (internal quotations omitted) (citing Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 474-75 (1982)). Whether appellants have standing is a question of law which we consider on appeal de novo. We review the underlying factual determinations under the clearly erroneous standard. See Gaetan v. Weber, 729 A.2d 895, 897 (D.C. 1999).

The Directors and Corporation Counsel, as amicus curiae, argue several bases for according the Directors standing. Because it is most clearly dispositive of the issue, we consider first the argument of Corporation Counsel that "when a private person has a special interest in a charitable corporation's conformity with its act of incorporation, that person has standing to sue for enforcement in compelling circumstances, such as when the action threatens to alter the fundamental nature of the institution. In the present case, the board of directors has that special interest and compelling circumstances exist." We note that the Congressional charter, the Act of May 24, 1828, creating the Washington City Orphan Asylum in the District of Columbia, Section 6, specifically confers authority on two female directresses and fifteen female managers, a body which the Directors claim as their predecessor in interest. The charter specifies that the directresses and managers, "a majority of whom shall be necessary to do business, at such time and place as they may direct, shall appoint a treasurer and secretary, and such other officers; and also perform such other duties as the by-laws may direct." The statute also gives the directresses and managers the authority to release children from the Orphan Asylum when they see fit to do so, an authority which comes into play only when the corporation operates as a home for orphans. They apparently have functioned as a self-perpetuating board, not subject to appointment or removal by the Trustees, and have participated in managing WCOA since incorporation in 1828. The Trustees, who assert that they are the successors of the five incorporators, voted to repeal the constitution and to adopt by-laws that divest the Directors of all the functions assigned to them under the 1828 Act.

The Directors and Hillcrest Children's Center would suffer "actual injury" with the termination of the financial support it receives from WCOA Trustees. The Directors are asserting their own interest in serving in the capacity accorded them by the statute, not solely the interest of the youth they serve. The Directors are not asserting merely a generalized grievance, because their role, as prescribed in the Congressional charter, will be terminated through the actions of the Trustees. We are persuaded by Corporation Counsel's argument that, on the strength of the role the statute assigned to the "directresses and managers," the Directors have standing to bring this case before the court. *fn4

The arguments of the Directors in support of their standing are consistent with that of Corporation Counsel. The overarching issue on which the Directors seek to be heard is whether the Trustees have the authority to terminate the statutorily-created role of the Directors in the corporation. The Directors contend that they have standing as either co-trustees or sub-trustees, or as persons holding a special interest in a charitable trust under Hooker v. Edes Home, 579 A.2d 608 (D.C. 1990) and the Restatement (Second) of Trusts. *fn5 The Trustees argue that WCOA is not a charitable trust, and that therefore arguments regarding charitable trusts are inapposite. Without reaching the merits of whether principles that apply to charitable trusts apply generally to nonprofit corporations, *fn6 we are satisfied that the Directors have made colorable arguments regarding their status as persons who have a special interest in the enforcement of a trust or as intermediate beneficiaries of a trust sufficient to give them standing.

In Hooker, supra, 579 A.2d at 611 n.8, applying the parties' assumptions regarding the law, we stated that the rules that apply to charitable trusts govern the standing issue with regard to a charitable corporation. We held that the appellants had standing as they were members of a class, having a "special interest" distinct from the public at large "[b]ecause the will, charter, and by-laws of the corporation establish a set of criteria identifying a limited class of potential beneficiaries . . . ." Id. at 609. The class in Hooker was composed of female, indigent, elderly widows, who had resided in Georgetown for at least five years. Id. at 615, 617.

Cases decided in other jurisdictions lend support to this basis for according the Directors standing to bring this action against the Trustees of WCOA. In Holt v. College of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons, 394 P.2d 932 (Cal. 1964), the Supreme Court of California noted that while it is true that the trustees of a nonprofit corporation do not possess all the attributes of a trustee of a charitable trust, the individual trustees in either case are solely responsible for administering the trust assets, and are fiduciaries in performing their trust duties. Id. at 936-37. In holding that the plaintiff trustees had the capacity to bring an action against the majority of trustees to enjoin any breach of trust that is threatened, the court considered the Restatement (Second) of Trusts and statutory law supporting the conclusion that the minority directors or "trustees" of the charitable corporation were empowered to bring an action against the majority trustees. Id. at 937. We contrast the instant case with Steeneck v. University of Bridgeport, 668 A.2d 688, 689-90 (Conn. 1995), where the Supreme Court of Connecticut considered whether a life trustee of a nonprofit corporation chartered in 1927 by special act of the legislature had standing to sue the term trustees. *fn7 The court held that the life trustee did not have a statutory or common law basis for asserting standing, as the position of life trustee was an honorary position and did not attach any duty to manage the affairs or control the operations of the university. Id. at 694, 696. The court stated that "it may well be appropriate to treat charitable corporation directors like actual trustees for purposes of standing to enforce the charity's purposes." Id. at 696. The Steeneck court, however, found it dispositive that the life trustees were given no managerial or operational role in the university's governance. Id. The instant case differs in that the Act of Congress incorporating WCOA assigned specific functions and management responsibilities, and arguably general management responsibilities, to the directresses and managers. *fn8

As the Trustees and, to some extent the trial court, relied on Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518 (1819), and In re Antioch University, 418 A.2d 105 (D.C. 1980), we consider the applicability of those cases. *fn9 In Dartmouth College, the Supreme Court held that a royal grant had vested all authority for the operation of a charter in a single, self-perpetuating board of trustees. This grant was deemed a contract. Therefore a new state law creating a board of overseers was held to have impaired the contract in violation of the Contracts Clause of the United States Constitution. Dartmouth College, supra, 17 U.S. at 624-26. The Act of May 24, 1828, which created WCOA, specifically refers to, and confers authority on, directresses and female managers. The Directors had a role at the inception of the charter, whereas in Dartmouth College the New Hampshire legislature attempted to create an additional governing body - a board of overseers - and add additional members to the existing board of trustees for the university even though the original grant had vested governing authority in a single board of trustees. Id. at 625-26. In Dartmouth College, the Supreme Court did not determine that bipolar organizations were impermissible; only that in that particular case governance had been vested in a single governing body and that, therefore, an attempt to divest the governing body of its authority was in violation of the Contracts Clause.

In In re Antioch University, the university's Articles of Incorporation stated: "[a]ll of the rights and powers of the corporation and the entire control and management of its College, property and affairs shall be vested in and exercised by a Board of Trustees composed of twenty-five (25) persons." In re Antioch University, supra, 418 A.2d at 112. The entire governance authority over the university rested with the Board of Trustees. Thus a unit of the university - the law school - that had not been granted rights under the articles of incorporation, was held to be without authority to maintain an action to enjoin the university from exercising or asserting control over the fiscal policies or administrative management of the law school. Id. at 107, 114. In the case of WCOA, while Section 2 of the Act of May 24, 1828, declares and constitutes the Trustees and their successors "a corporation and body politic in law," it also constitutes in Section 6 the directresses and managers as a board, "a majority of whom shall be necessary to do business," assigns them specific authority over orphans, and arguably assigns them general management responsibilities. *fn10

For the foregoing reasons, the Directors have standing to bring suit and be heard with respect to the matters alleged in the several counts of their amended complaint. Their amended complaint alleges, specifically, that the Trustees will breach a fiduciary duty if they follow through on their proposal to end all funding to the operating unit of WCOA but instead fund such charitable organizations (including possibly a separate re-incorporated Hillcrest Children's Center) as the Trustees may select; that the Trustees would thereby arbitrarily and capriciously contravene their statutory and "constitutional" mandates; that they would effect an unauthorized diversion of the trust funds; would convert those funds; and would act ultra vires; the amended complaint also seeks an accounting. All these matters will be dealt with in appropriate further proceedings.


We turn now to the second basis for the trial court's ruling. In its dispositive order, the court stated: "In the alternative, all material facts, as well as controlling law, establish that defendant [Trustees] alone retains power to direct the affairs of WCOA and that judgment must be entered in defendant's favor on each of the six counts set forth in plaintiff's amended complaint." In so ruling the trial court used the language of an order granting summary judgment. On appeal, the Directors argue that the court erred in that there were genuine issues as to material facts. It is not correct, however, to view the court's ruling as one granting summary judgment. The ruling was, at bottom, a legal ruling based upon the court's construction of the Act of May 24, 1828.

It is true that the court considered matters outside the pleadings in making its ruling, and that when a court relies at all on such materials it normally converts a Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12 (c) motion for judgment on the pleadings into one for summary judgment. Bell v. Jones, 566 A.2d 1059, 1060 (D.C. 1989); Shehyn v. District of Columbia, 392 A.2d 1008, 1011 n.1 (D.C. 1978). When a court is considering appropriate materials in order to construe a statute, however, the court is in the process of arriving at a ruling on a question of law. Fogg v. Macaluso, 892 P.2d 271, 273 (Colo. 1995) (en banc); Staley v. Missouri Dir. of Revenue, 623 S.W.2d 246, 248 (Mo. 1981) (en banc) (citing State ex rel. Igoe v. Bradford, 611 S.W.2d 343 (Mo. Ct. App. 1980)); 2A Sutherland, Statutes and Statutory Construction § 45:02 at 14-15 (Norman J. Singer ed., 6th ed. 2000).

In moving for judgment on the pleadings, the Trustees argued that the Directors' "lack of capacity to bring suit is fatal to each and every count of the amended complaint . . . ." The trial court agreed, though we do not, with the Trustee's argument regarding the Directors' lack of capacity to sue, and that conclusion permeated the trial court's consideration of all six counts of the amended complaint. It is appropriate, therefore, for the trial court to review the disposition of those counts on remand. As the trial court will find it necessary to revisit the construction of the Act of May 24, 1828, in order to deal with the merits issues, we make a few observations about that task.


The legislation in question here enacted a particular corporate charter. Legislation confers corporate power through general or special statutes. *fn11 See Thomas v. Railroad Co., 101 U.S. 71, 82 (1880); Oregon Ry. and Navigation Co. v. Oregonian Ry. Co., 130 U.S. 1, 20-1 (1889); 3 Sutherland, Statutes and Statutory Construction § 64:5 at 336-37 (Norman J. Singer ed., 6th ed. 2001). State legislatures generally exercise the power to create corporations. Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the United States Constitution grants to the Congress of the United States the power to "exercise exclusive legislation in all cases" over the District of Columbia. Accordingly, Congress has the power to create corporations in the District. See Stoutenburgh v. Hennick, 129 U.S. 141, 148-49 (1889); Huntington v. Savings Bank, 96 U.S. 388, 391 (1878). Congress exercised its local legislative authority to incorporate WCOA in 1828.

Principles of statutory construction guide our interpretation of the Act of May 24, 1828, which created WCOA. *fn12 In construing acts of Congress, a court starts with the premise that the meaning of a statute must be sought in the language in which the act is framed, and if that is plain then the sole function of the court is to enforce it according to its terms. See Tibbs v. United States, 507 A.2d 141, 143 (D.C. 1986) (citing Caminetti v. United States, 242 U.S. 470, 485 (1917)); Kleiboemer v. District of Columbia, 458 A.2d 731, 737 (D.C. 1983). If the words of the statute are clear and unambiguous, then the trial court must give effect to their plain and ordinary meaning. See District of Columbia v. Acme Reporting Co., 530 A.2d 708, 712 (D.C. 1987) (citation omitted) ("In construing acts of Congress, `we must look first to the language of the statute and, if it is clear and unambiguous, give effect to its plain meaning'."). *fn13

The Act of Congress creating WCOA is not clear on its face, as the language of the statute is capable of being understood in different ways. Most notably, Section 6 appears rife with ambiguities and lacunae. Section 6 describes the then-existing managers of the Washington City Asylum, called by the articles of association "a board of trustees," but fails to identify them. Section 6 also prescribes a role for directresses and managers and gives them the authority to "appoint a treasurer and secretary, and such other officers; and also perform such other duties as the by-laws may direct," even though Section 4 also grants the corporation the power to "appoint a treasurer and secretary, and other officers as they may deem necessary . . . ." In addition, whether the board of trustees and especially the board of directresses and managers are self-perpetuating is not clear.

As the Act of May 24, 1828, contains ambiguities, the trial court will be required to ascertain legislative intent. *fn14 In Tenley & Cleveland Park Emergency Committee v. District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustment, 550 A.2d 331, 334 n.10 (D.C. 1988) (citing Rosenberg v. United States, 297 A.2d 763, 765 (D.C. 1972)), we stated that "[o]ur primary goal is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislative body that drafted the language." See also District of Columbia v. Onley, 399 A.2d 84, 86-87 (D.C. 1979).

Each provision of the statute should be given effect, so as not to read any language out of a statute "whenever a reasonable interpretation is available that can give meaning to each word in the statute." School St. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship v. District of Columbia, 764 A.2d 798, 807 (D.C. 2001) (en banc) (citing Thomas v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 547 A.2d 1034, 1037 (D.C. 1988) ("A basic principle is that each provision of the statute should be construed so as to give effect to all of the statute's provisions, not rendering any provision superfluous.")). See also 1137 19th St. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship v. District of Columbia, 769 A.2d 155, 161 (2001) (citation and internal quotations omitted) ("[E]ffect must be given [to] every word of a statute[,] and interpretations that operate to render a word inoperative should be avoided."). The words of the act of Congress "are to be read in [] light of the purpose of the statute taken as a whole, and are to be given a sensible construction and one that would not work an obvious injustice." School St. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, supra, 764 A.2d at 805-806 (citation and internal quotation omitted). The meaning of statutory language "must be derived from a consideration of the entire enactment against the backdrop of its policies and objectives." Tenley & Cleveland Park Emergency Comm., supra, 550 A.2d at 334-35 n.10 (citing Carey v. Crane Serv. Co., 457 A.2d 1102, 1105 (D.C. 1983)).

The charter's content and contemporaneous history should be utilized to construe the charter's meaning. See Union Nat'l Bank of St. Louis v. Matthews, 98 U.S. 621, 626 (1879). In Casper the court stated: "`charters' are `legislative acts,' and such acts must be construed from their contents, contemporaneous history, and other legitimate aids to their proper construction." Casper, supra, 149 N.W. at 757 (emphasis added). Regarding the proposition that a corporation may waive provisions of its charter, the court said:

[T]he vital objection to holding that a charter provision may be annulled by previous waivers is that no one upon reading a charter under which a corporation has existed for some time could tell what provisions were in force and what had been annulled by previous conduct of the corporation. The reasons suggested why a court, even though it had jurisdiction, should not reform a charter apply more strongly here. A party interested in a corporation has a right to rely upon the fact that its charter is what it purports to be. He cannot be met with the statement that such and such provisions of it have been annulled through disregard in the past. Here again the statute as to how charters may be amended must control. To drop out a provision of a charter is an amendment of it. Any material change in the fundamental law of a corporation is an amendment Id. (citation omitted) (emphasis added). *fn15 See also Northern Trust Co. v. Snyder, 89 N.W. 460, 464 (Wisc. 1902) ("The resolution, like all resolves, laws, by-laws and ordinances of a legislative body, must speak for itself, in the light of those things that may be legitimately resorted to, to aid in its construction, which by no means includes parol evidence, of the members of the body concerned in its adoption, as to what they intended thereby."); Boston and Lowell R.R. Corp. v. Salem and Lowell R.R. Co., 2 Mass. (1 Gray) 28-9 (1854) ("In construing this act of incorporation, we are to bear in mind the time and circumstances under which it was made, but more especially to take into consideration every part and clause of the act, and deduce from it the true meaning and intent of the parties.").


We remand to the trial court for further proceedings in which the Directors will participate as a party with standing. Upon remand, the trial court's task will be essentially two-fold. First, the court must construe the statute to determine what it provides, especially with regard to the respective powers and responsibilities of the Trustees and the Directors, and the merits of the Directors' specific claims for relief. Second, it will be necessary to determine, in light of the provisions of the statute as construed, whether there are any issues of fact that must be decided or any legal issues that must be resolved bearing on any of the various counts of the complaint before judgment can be entered.

The trial court can, in its discretion, adopt appropriate procedures to make the necessary determinations. It will be necessary to give the parties the opportunity to adduce any additional materials bearing upon the construction of the statute that they can find. One may look of course to legislative history - a source of extrinsic aid -for guidance. Onley, supra, 399 A.2d at 86-87; Davis v. United States, 397 A.2d 951, 956-57 (D.C. 1979); 2A Sutherland, supra, § 48:04, at 431-36. It may prove appropriate to look beyond the process that led up to enactment. Without opining in advance on the relevance of particular materials, we note that one treatise has commented that useful extrinsic aids to the construction of a statute "consist of background information about circumstances which led to the enactment of [the] statute, events surrounding enactment, and developments pertinent to subsequent operation." Id. § 48:01, at 408-409. While appellee indicated at oral argument that it had made a full search for any relevant materials, appellant stated that there are available materials in the Library of Congress that it had not thoroughly perused. Upon further investigation, both parties may be in a position to make additional submissions. Contemporaneous journals or court records may shed light on the proper construction of the statute. Id. § 48:04, at 433-35.

The manner in which the interested parties construed and applied the statute in the months and years immediately following enactment may prove enlightening as to the proper construction of the statute. "The construction which parties put upon their contracts by their conduct is urged by appellees as of the highest value in settling its interpretation. This is true. As Lord Chancellor Sugden said in Atty. Gen. ex rel. Quin v. Drummond, 1 Drury & War. 363: `Tell me what you have done under a deed, and I will tell you what that deed means.'" Waters v. Kopp, 34 App. D.C. 575, 580 (D.C. 1910). It would be especially helpful, obviously, to be able to consider the "constitutions" (or by-laws) in effect at and soon after the time on enactment. That is not to say, however, that subsequent disregard of any provisions of the statute has annulled those provisions. See Casper, supra, 149 N.W. at 757. After the court has reviewed the statute with the aid of whatever additional extrinsic material it has before it, it will be for the court to articulate what the statute provides, especially with regard to the role of the Directors and whether the Trustees have the power under the charter to extinguish that role. While it is appropriate to use the term "finding" to refer to that articulation of the statute's meaning, see 2A Sutherland, supra, § 48:03, at 425-27, the court does not make findings as a fact finder but rather serves in the recognized judicial role of construing statutes and devining legislative intent. *fn16

The parties may contend, upon the completion of the court's task of statutory construction, that issues of fact remain to be resolved. Upon consideration of such arguments, the trial court will determine whether any issues of fact remains which require resolution by a finder of fact. If none remains, summary judgment may be appropriate. Dismissal may also be appropriate if, for example, the basis for disposition is a failure to state a cause of action in light of the court's construction of the statute. If genuine issues of material fact remain to be resolved, it will be necessary for the court to proceed to trial.

Reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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