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TEC joins South Carolina trademarks case in federal court

TEC joins South Carolina trademarks case in federal court

For clarity: The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is the continuing diocese of the national church. The Diocese of South Carolina is the breakaway diocese which is now part of ACNA. The Episcopal Church is the denomination to which the Episcopal Church in South Carolina belongs.

An announcement from The Episcopal Church in South Carolina:

Episcopal Church joins federal lawsuit

A federal judge has granted The Episcopal Church’s motion to intervene in a lawsuit over false-advertising and related claims against the bishop of a breakaway group that left the Church in 2012.

The federal case, known as vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel, and currently is scheduled to proceed to trial in March 2018. Judge Gergel was assigned the case after the death of Judge C. Weston Houck in July.

The lawsuit 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 that time, Bishop Charles vonRosenberg was the only bishop recognized by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. By continuing to represent himself as bishop of the diocese, Mark Lawrence is committing false advertising, the lawsuit says.

Bishop vonRosenberg retired in 2016, and his successor, Bishop Skip Adams, was added as a plaintiff in the case earlier this year.

This month, The Episcopal Church filed a motion to join the case as a plaintiff, saying it has an interest in the litigation because of Bishop Lawrence’s “misuse of marks owned by the Church.”

On Thursday, Judge Gergel ruled in favor of the motion. Bishop Lawrence’s attorneys had argued the motion should be denied, in part because it wasn’t timely. Since the onset of the litigation in 2013, Lawrence’s attorneys twice moved to delay the case. Both times, Bishop vonRosenberg appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which agreed and sent the case back to federal court in Charleston to be heard.

“Defendant’s vehement objections to the timing of the motion for leave to intervene must be taken with a grain of salt,” Judge Gergel wrote. “The four years of delay preceding his answer to the complaint occurred on Defendant’s motion. He cannot now claim he is prejudiced by the delay he requested.”

The federal case is key to resolving trademark issues that were not addressed by the state courts in the lawsuit that the breakaway group, calling itself the “Diocese of South Carolina,” filed against The Episcopal Church and its local diocese in 2013. That case went to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled August 2 in favor of The Episcopal Church and its diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

On the issue of service marks, the five state Supreme Court justices were divided, and the opinions noted that these should be determined in the pending federal proceeding.

Attorneys for all parties attended a scheduling hearing Thursday with Judge Gergel in preparation for trial in 2018.


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I loved the Episcopal churches in Blowing Rock and Boone. While on staff with a professional orchestra in NC, I was hired to be on the faculty at Appalachian State U in Boone. Lovely area and churches. They were pretty liberal in the late 1990’s. Nice place to have a legacy.

I wish that SC could have worked things out better. The schismatics give the impression that they took everything to make the statement about being the “real” Anglican church. And every flows from seeking that affirmation in the courts, etc.

Prof Christopher Seitz

I gather Jan Karon moved out of TEC into a different worship community. The churches of my father’s era in WNC are gone now. This was all pre ASU of course and ‘keep Asheville weird’ sentiment. Selah.

Ann Fontaine

She loved nostalgia-ville — not surprised she left TEC – the reality of church is not some idealized Fr. Tim.

Prof Christopher Seitz

I was born in Blowing Rock and left in the mid fifties. Her fame was later. I never read her books. But my point was simply to say: St Mary’s Blowing Rock, and the Diocese in general, is a very diff

Prof Christopher Seitz

My father served as a mountain mission worker when in seminary, at Valle Crucis. He was later the first year-round priest at Blowing Rock, Boone and Beaver Creek. Domestic Mission was parcelled out to the more high-church seminarians and Foreign mission to more evangelical ones, in this era of expansion E and W of the Mississippi. The excerpt below is typical of the period.

“Valle Crucis, where one of our two conference centers is located, began as a missionary outpost in 1842. In 1894, a resolution was adopted in the Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina that the Western part of the State be set off and offered to the General Church as a Missionary District. The following year, in November 1895, the first Convention of the District of Asheville was held at Trinity Church in Asheville. In 1922, after all the requirements had been fulfilled, a petition from the Jurisdiction of Asheville to become the Diocese of Western North Carolina was presented at the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. It was accepted on September 12, 1922.”

Prof Christopher Seitz

Dear Mr Powers, You are likely correct that the situation would be judged anomalous and without any obvious historical precedent (missionary diocese, etc), and so if ECinSC loses, most likely some accommodation would be created.

I suppose one can speak of the unusual entity in scare quotes as a “continuing diocese” but of course Episcopal Church in SC is in fact the name. There is no diocese in the traditional sense: the bishop is appointed, not elected; it is using an unusual nomenclature out of necessity/strategy; it has no diocesan structure; it is suing in the hope it can become the Diocese which presently continues to exist. In court it cannot refer to itself as a Diocese and does not.

My point is chiefly to underscore that unlike synodical polity, TEC is at ground a diocesan polity. I can recall when the region in the western part of NC was a missionary district. When it was strong enough to form into a diocese, it did so. Then it was accepted into (the then) PECUSA by GC. Dioceses have canons, conventions, own property, have copyrighted seals, can even have corp sole Bishops as in LA. Most provinces in the AC are not organized in this way. The USA was slowly developed east to west, as states emerged. TEC tracked along this model.

My own view is that TEC ought to eliminate all grey areas in respect of diocesan polity so as to create a more streamlined, top-down system. But this is a difficult thing to pull off and would likely be resisted by Bishops. It just isn’t in the DNA. A synodical polity as in the CofE would be logistically difficult. Many parishioners identify most readily with their diocese and their Bishop. But TEC is going through growing pains related to shifts in power and authority. At the same time it is struggling with dramatic population declines. The next HOB meeting will doubtless have to think through the recent LA events.

Grace and peace.

Paul Powers

There is a continuing TEC diocese in lower South Carolina. Even if it ends up having to adopt a new name, it’ll still be the same diocese, and there will be no need to petition General Convention for admission as a new diocese.

Prof Christopher Seitz

You are correct that if they win this suit they will not have to petition. The way new dioceses become parts of TEC is by petitioning. History books can show you this. Diocese of Texas, etc. Typically they were missionary dioceses in round one, then they formed into dioceses. They they requested to affiliate. Unique to the cultural reality of the US in the New World (cf Europe).

TEC could have a synodical government — no diocesan canons. No diocesan conventions. No diocesan officers. No property owned by the Diocese. Meet nationally as a church 3 times a year. Most provinces operate this way. They have archbishops, synods, no diocesan canons, conventions, property, and so forth.

I believe it would be preferable in some ways, but it is not TEC’s history.

The reason there is a suit being joined is that the matter is contested. So TEC is suing to seize the name and titles. As I said, I am not sure how a diocese would surrender these except by diocesan convention vote. Or by losing a lawsuit. Bon dimanche, grace and peace.

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