The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Fairbanks-based Farthest North Girl Scout Council in a lawsuit filed by the council against the national Girl Scout organization over annual fees.
"This was a win for our council, for our girls and that’s why we took this challenge on, you know? If you have the ability to undo an injustice, I think you have the responsibility to do it," said Suellen Nelles, executive director of the Farthest North Girl Scout Council.
The Fairbanks council filed the lawsuit in 2017, arguing that its parent organization, Girl Scouts of the United States of America, violated its own constitution when its National Board increased annual fees over the course of six years. The fees, which are applied to each girl and adult volunteer, increased to $15 from $12 in 2014 and then to $25 in 2018.
The National Board of Directors, which oversees the organization's daily operations, did not have the authority to increase fees, according to the Fairbanks council, as fee increases could only be approved by the organization's National Council, which meets every three years.
In May 2018, Alaska Superior Court Judge Bethany Harbison ruled in favor of the national organization after concluding both the National Council and the National Board have authority over fee increases.
On Friday, the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court ruling, finding that the constitution of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America grants the National Council exclusive rights to establish membership dues. Further proceedings on the parties’ remaining claims were sent back to the Superior Court.
Nelles said the ruling reaffirms the National Council, which is an elected body of the members, as the coordinated head and decision-maker of the national organization, which she said is an important interpretation of the Girl Scouts' governing documents.
“So more specifically, the Alaska Supreme Court says that only that democratic body, the National Council, can set the membership dues, not the National Board, and the last two increases were approved solely by the National Board,” Nelles said.
The council does not yet know what will happen to fees, but Nelles said after the Supreme Court ruling, she cannot imagine members of the Farthest North Girl Scout Council paying more than $12.
Nelles said she has heard from other members of the Girl Scouts as well as other councils outside the state,
“Well of course, this case was decided in the state of Alaska, so its ruling only applies to the state of Alaska," she said. "However, it will have national implications and I think we’re all just trying to grasp that right now."
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMlocal.