A lawsuit by James Huntsman alleged The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints defrauded its members by using tithing funds for non-charitable purposes, such as in building the City Creek Center shopping complex in Salt Lake City, and sought the repayment of the approximately $5 million Huntsman paid in tithing.
In September 2021, the lawsuit was dismissed. However, in an appeals court on Monday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed the decision by a 2-1 vote.
In response to the ruling Judge William Fletcher wrote, “We reverse the judgment of the district court with respect to Huntsman’s fraud claim based on the church’s representations as to the use of funds to finance the City Creek mall project. We affirm the judgment of the district court with respect to Huntsman’s fraud claim as to the use of funds to bail out the Beneficial Life Insurance Company. We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
“The court of appeals decision returns part of this case to the trial court for further handling,” Church spokesman Sam Penrod said in a statement to the press. “As we have previously stated, there was no fraud. The church did exactly what President Gordon B. Hinckley said when it invested earnings on reserve funds in the City Creek project. The church looks forward to defending these facts in the next phase of the legal process.”
The case will now go back to the U.S. District Court, where evidence will be sought after and a potential trial could begin.
Huntsman, the son of Jon Huntsman Sr., a former area seventy and mission president, removed his records from the Church in 2020.
In an official statement in 2020, the Church said it “considers every cent it receives from Latter-day Saints as sacred. Church leaders know that these funds are God’s, not their own. That’s why they handle tithes and donations with the care, prudence and wisdom such offerings require.”
As recently as July 2023, Bishop Gérald Caussé, the Church’s presiding bishop, said in reference to need for reserve fund and continued financial growth, “We have a vision of the Church that is—can I use the word grandiose? Because we believe the gospel has to be taken to all the world. And so we see the size of the Church multiple times what it is now, in the future.”