It’s difficult to imagine it changes anything, given what the state Supreme Court has said in previous rulings on the case in favor of the Diocese of Los Angeles, but that court has remanded the St. James property to a lower court yet again.
From the diocese’s Episcopal News:
A California Supreme Court opinion released today “does not detract at all” from the high court’s 2009 opinion affirming that property occupied by local parishes is held in trust for the general church, said John R. Shiner, lead attorney for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.
“All the Supreme Court has done is send the case back for further proceedings consistent with its earlier opinion,” Shiner said of today’s 6-1 opinion….
“The thrust of today’s decision does not diminish the Supreme Court’s earlier opinion that clearly found, based on the record before it, that the property belongs to the diocese and wider church,” Shiner said, citing the Court of Appeal’s 2010 opinion in favor of the diocese and wider church.
From today’s Opinion:
[In our earlier opinion] we also concluded, “on this record, that the general church, not the local church, owns the
property in question.”
The majority [of the appeals court] viewed our opinion in Episcopal Church Cases, supra, 45 Cal.4th 467, as having resolved the property dispute for all purposes, leaving nothing for
the trial court to do on remand but to dispose of the cases in favor of the Los Angeles Diocese and Episcopal Church….
[W]e now conclude that the majority in the Court of Appeal erred. It is true that we “address[ed]” the merits of the property dispute because the parties had briefed the question, and it presented an important question of law. (Episcopal Church Cases, supra, 45 Cal.4th at p. 478.) Based on the arguments the parties presented, we did conclude “on this record,” that the general church owns the disputed property. (Id. at p. 473.) But what we said must be viewed in light of the case’s procedural posture.
In the dissenting opinion filed today, Justice Kennard states that “the Court of Appeal acted correctly when it granted the national church organization’s petition … and directed the trial court to grant the church’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.”