Alaska Girl Scout group wins appeal against Girl Scouts USA over rising membership fees
A Girl Scout group in Alaska won an appeal in its case against the Girl Scouts of the United States over a $3 increase in membership dues.
In its opinion dated Sept. 13, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the Farthest North Girl Scout Council’s claim that the national organization’s governing documents do not give its board of directors the authority to increase membership dues.
Girl Scouts is a congressionally chartered nonprofit corporation, governed by a group called the National Council, made up of approximately 1,500 people, including some elected by local Girl Scout Councils like Farthest North, according to the court document.
Farthest North is a chartered Girl Scout group responsible for promoting and organizing Girl Scouts programs in Fairbanks and northern Alaska.
Individual scouts must pay membership dues to the national organization. As a Girl Scouts council, Farthest North is responsible for collecting dues from members in its jurisdiction; it then passes those dues to Girl Scouts USA, court documents state.
The National Council has voted to increase membership dues nine times between 1941 and 2009. In 2009, the council decided on annual membership fees of $12 per member, the appeal reads.
Yet, court documents state in 2012 the Girl Scouts’ board increased the membership dues by $3, to $15 per scout, and in 2016 the board raised dues again by $10, making the annual dues $25. Neither decision was brought to the National Council for a vote or approval.
Farthest North wrote to Girl Scouts that it took issue with the increases and would not collect the "unauthorized dues."
“Though Farthest North did collect $15 from each member, it only forwarded $12 from each to [Girls Scouts],” the document states, with a footnote that says the Alaska group did so to protect the interest of its members.
Farthest North said the additional $3 from each member was placed into a separate account.
In response, Girl Scouts told Farthest North in late 2016 that it was in breach of its charter agreement and refused to admit any Farthest North members. The organization also refused to let any Farthest North scouts participate in Girl Scouts activities and refused to insure any of the Alaska group’s member who participated in Girl Scouts activities.
Court documents show in February 2017 Farthest North filed a suit against Girl Scouts, stating only the National Council had authority to increase membership dues and the board's increase was done without prior authorization.
Girl Scouts argued, "[a]s a matter of law, the authority to set membership dues is shared."
A superior court ruled in favor of the national organization.
However, the supreme court stated in its reversal of the lower court’s ruling that it agreed with Farthest North’s interpretation of the Girl Scouts’ congressional charter, saying its constitution and bylaws do not grant the national board of directors the authority to raise dues.
“[...] the [Girl Scouts] Constitution makes it clear that the National Council is entitled to set the amount of membership dues,” the court document reads.
Since paying membership dues is a requirement to be a member, the court’s opinion says the National Council has the sole power to establish the cost of annual dues.
The National Council set a specific requirement in 2009 when it voted that members must pay annual dues of $12. The council has not voted to change the dues amount since that time, making the Girl Scouts board’s decision to raise dues inconsistent with that requirement.
The judgment from the supreme court ordered the superior court to enter partial summary judgment in favor of Farthest North. The remaining claims in the case were also diverted to the superior court.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated it was a Girl Scout troop that won the appeal.
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