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Arguments heard in South Carolina appeal in Federal Court

Arguments heard in South Carolina appeal in Federal Court

From the Episcopal Diocese in South Carolina:

Oral Arguments heard in appeal

December 12, 2016

A federal false-advertising lawsuit against the bishop of a breakaway group should be sent back to U.S. District Court in Charleston for trial on its merits, attorneys representing the Episcopal Church’s bishop for eastern South Carolina argued before a three-judge panel in Richmond, Va., on Friday, December 9.

Listen to audio of the hearing here. [45 minutes]

The federal lawsuit, vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, was filed in March 2013, a few months after Mark Lawrence and a breakaway group announced they were leaving The Episcopal Church. The suit involves a claim of false advertising under the federal Lanham Act.

At the time the suit was filed, Bishop vonRosenberg was the only bishop recognized by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. The appeal seeks a decision returning the suit to U.S. District Court and a preliminary injunction against Mark Lawrence, who, by continuing to represent himself as bishop of the diocese, is committing false advertising, the lawsuit says.

Attorney Thomas S. Tisdale presented the oral arguments on behalf of the bishop before the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Richmond on Friday; attorney Henrietta Golding represented Mark Lawrence in the proceedings. The panel consisted of Judges Roger Gregory, Diana Gribbon Motz, and Richard D. Bennett.

“We hope the court will allow us to have a trial on the merits of the action in U.S. District Court,” Mr. Tisdale said Monday. A ruling is expected soon, he said.

U.S. District Court Judge C. Weston Houck had issued a stay in the case in September 2015, delaying a ruling until the final outcome of a separate state lawsuit that is now before the South Carolina Supreme Court. Bishop vonRosenberg appealed that decision.

Earlier in the case, Judge Houck had granted a motion to abstain from the case, citing the pending state lawsuit. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit appeals court found that the judge applied the incorrect legal standard in deciding to abstain, and should have followed the principles set forth in the Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States decision, which says the court may abstain only in “exceptional” circumstances.

In his order of September 22, 2015, Judge Houck said that the case does present the exceptional circumstances necessary for him to defer to the state courts on the matter. Attorneys for the bishop appealed, saying the case does not meet the “exceptional circumstances” test.

The state litigation involves a suit filed by the breakaway group against The Episcopal Church and its local diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, over control of the assets and identity of the diocese. An appeal in that case is currently before the South Carolina Supreme Court. Oral arguments were heard September 23, 2015; a ruling has not yet been issued.


Queried by judges about whether they had any expectation of when the state Supreme Court would issue its opinion, lawyers for both sides said they had none, but that decisions taking more than a year were not uncommon. A South Carolina statute stipulates the number of days within an opinion must be issued, but according the lawyers the statute is rarely if ever enforced. The lawyers were also asked if the court had communicated with them; they said the court had not.

No mention of Friday’s hearing in Richmond was found on the breakaway diocese website.

Christian Post in October communicated with spokespersons from both dioceses concerning the long wait for a decision in state supreme court.

H/T Ron Caldwell.


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Dan Ennis

On the ground in SC it is interesting to see how the Lawrence folks rapidly rebranded so as to eliminate the word “Episcopal” whenever the public might see it, but continued to fight for the “Episcopal” trademark. The Lawrence diocese website has scrubbed the word “Episcopal” pretty thoroughly — one of the few places one can find it on their homepage is in the tiny diocesan seal, which I assume is put on the website to assert the right to use it. The Lawrencite parishes and missions are mostly going by the brand “Anglican” or making no denominational claims at all.

Tom Downs

Identity theft causes no end of problems. Particularly so when corporations are involved. Sometimes you need a lawyer to help reclaim your birthright. This is true even if the thief would willingly surrender the name he stole, though in this case that is highly unlikely. In anycase, there is simply no alternative than to fight to regain it. What would you do Prof Seitz if someone took your name, reputation and assets?

Prof Christopher Seitz

They didn’t take a name but persisted in using the one they had always been using, since earliest days. Those who did not agree were given their properties and they chose a new name. I would agree it is unclear what their status is, however, as they would need to petition GC to become an actual diocese. They don’t want to do that as it would indicate they are in fact what they are: The Episcopal Church in SC. So they are in a sort of limbo having decided to reject the new status they now have and sue to remove the name from those who remain a legal entity under that name.

But of course people do not want that and so argue it isn’t fair and that people who remain in their churches from times previously ought to be evacuated, even if they are the considerable majority and in an orderly convention formally agreed this path. The Global South remains their link outside of TEC and so it will remain pending a different legal outcome.

I see that Tisdale is essentially fighting this battle in VA by himself. Does that mean the ertswhile 815 team is now keeping a lower profile across the board in TEC litigation? We hear very little from the new PB on this score, thankfully.

There are no ‘winners’ in South Carolina and vasts sums have been spent.

William (Bill) Paul

Let’s rehearse even just a few things. Lawrence came to a diocese with large numbers already eager to leave. He worked to stay but let many of them leave. He would not have left had there not been a move to depose him…which included a lawyer of TEC claiming, before the departure, to be *the* representative of the church. Also, fair minds know that the issue is the ability or not of dioceses to depart at a matter of self-determination. Cries of *theft* are unpersuasive. As is the claim BTW regularly heard that “faithful Episcopalians built these churches” as if that by itself means they gave current leadership freedom to do whatever. How obvious it seems to me that they way to go was to allow some kind of alternative oversight for a season. But noooooo.

Fr. Will McQueen

Thank you Bill. Very wise words!

Prof Christopher Seitz

Not sure how things are any more or less bizarre than they have ever been, but this is certainly costing lots of money and keeping lawyers well fed. TEC decided to go after trademarks as well as the usual stuff in state courts. Rosenberg isn’t even on the scene anymore.

William McQueen

Which is why the charges should dropped and all parties move along.

David Allen

This case seems to just get more bizarre the longer it goes on.

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