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Episcopal Church diocese in South Carolina seeks trademark summary judgment

Episcopal Church diocese in South Carolina seeks trademark summary judgment

from the episcopal Church in South Carolina


The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC) and The Episcopal Church have asked the U.S. District Court to grant motions for summary judgment and call a halt to the “pervasive” public confusion caused by a group that broke away from the church, yet continues to use Episcopal names and marks.

The motion asks U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel to prohibit false advertising and the use of confusing names and marks by the breakaway group and its affiliated churches. A motion for summary judgment is a request for the court to rule that the other party has no case, because there are no facts at issue.

“The public confusion resulting from Defendants’ conduct is pervasive,” according to a memo filed by TECSC on December 7 in support of the motion. “It is undeniably causing irreparable harm to The Episcopal Church, and more locally, to TECSC and its Bishops. All that the Plaintiffs seek in this action is declaratory and injunctive relief, not damages (for which they could easily make a case).”

The lawsuit, known as vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, was filed in March 2013 by Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, who was the only bishop recognized by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina at that time. Bishop vonRosenberg retired in 2016, and his successor, Bishop Gladstone B. Adams III, was added as a plaintiff in the case. The Episcopal Church and its local diocese, TECSC, also joined the case as plaintiffs.

In April, Judge Gergel ordered the expansion of the lawsuit, adding as defendants to the case the diocesan organization and trustees who are operating under Bishop Mark Lawrence, and the 54 parishes that followed him after the 2012 split. Those groups have been operating under the names “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina” and “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina,” and the confusion created by that is one facet of the trademark infringement and false-advertising claims. The court has set a target date of March 1, 2019 for a trial to begin.

The federal case is aimed primarily at resolving federal trademark infringement and false-advertising issues raised by the split. In a separate case, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in August 2017 that property of the diocese and 29 parishes must be returned to The Episcopal Church and TECSC. That decision resulted from a state lawsuit filed by the breakaway group in 2013 against The Episcopal Church and TECSC.

The memo filed December 7 by TECSC cites the state Supreme Court’s 3-2 ruling that TECSC, not the group led by Mark Lawrence, is the true Episcopal diocese in the eastern half of South Carolina.  According to the memo, TECSC has the right to all the diocesan names and marks, including the historic seal of the Diocese of South Carolina.

“The use of all of the diocesan names and marks, and the goodwill that arose from such use over many years, inured to the one and only historic diocese at issue. That goodwill in the diocesan names and marks cannot be divvied up, pursuant to the following well-established principles of trademark law,” the memo says.

The Episcopal Church filed a separate Motion for Summary Judgment and a supporting memo on December 7. “Defendants have purported to disaffiliate from the Church, but continue to use the names they used when they were part of the Church and/or continue to hold themselves out as belonging to the ‘Episcopal’ diocese led by the ‘Episcopal’ bishop. These actions are not only likely to cause confusion, but, as we detail below, have caused confusion over and over again,” the memo says.

Defendants in the breakaway group also have filed counterclaims and motions with the federal court in connection with the case.


About The Episcopal Church in South Carolina

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC) is the local diocese in the eastern half of South Carolina that is part of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.


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SR Price

The chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court wrote the majority opinion of the Court in very clear terms If Judge Dickinson is not capable of understanding
language that clear,he is not competent to sit on the bench on any case and should resign or be removed.But I suspect we’re not dealing with incompetence here.I have heard that he is a former member of one of the legal team representing the breakaway group Does anyone have verifiable information on that? If true, shouldn’t he be required to recuse himself from this case ? I also can’t take seriously the view that a 5 member panel can be split in half on anything without cutting one of the members in half!

Christopher SEITZ

We surely wouldn’t want any judge looking at this with bias and pre-investment!

Oh, wait, that has already happened, and in spades. Which is precisely why we are where we are.

JoS. S Laughon

Fighting over trademarks while secularism and disbelief overwhelms us all, both ACNA & TEC, is a bit like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.

Christopher Seitz

Orangeburg court:

Alan Runyan for Diocese of SC noted at the beginning of his argument that the last statements by half the Supreme Court were that “We have given little to no coherent guidance in this case” and “The Court’s collective opinions give rise to great uncertainty” in “this matter of great importance.”
Tom Tisdale, counsel for TECSC and Mary Kostel, Counsel for TEC, presented their arguments.
It was obvious that Judge Dickson had problems with the argument that it is clear what the Supreme Court decided.
Addressing Mr. Tisdale, he asked, “How many times have you seen a Supreme Court decision with five separate opinions?” Mr. Tisdale acknowledged that it had never happened in the history of the court.
When counsel for TEC continued to assert that the result was clear, the judge replied, “Like through a glass darkly.”

Tom Downs

Does Judge Dickson think a 3 to 2 ruling is not a ruling? The various justifications for deciding as they did does not change the “clear” ruling of the Supreme Court SC. I understand him to be saying that their ruling didn’t help him.

SR Price

I don’t get the argument that because three qualified judges reached the same conclusion for three different reasons
somehow weakens or muddies the decision of the Supreme Court in favor of the Episcopal Church claim.Rather,it seems to actually strengthen the claim by pointing out that it’s based on at least three valid points instead of just one.


Decisions do not function this way, which is exactly why a chagrined Tisdale admitted it was unprecedented. Tisdale himself. The implementation phase is exposing this problem.


Tisdale said what needed to be said about the ruling. “Never in the history of the court.”

3 to 2 — but not any single “3 standard” judgment. Hence, the judge’s statement. A mess.

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