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Motion asks South Carolina court to reconsider ruling in breakaway lawsuit

Motion asks South Carolina court to reconsider ruling in breakaway lawsuit

A press release from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the diocese loyal to The Episcopal Church, announcing its expected motion for reconsideration

Motion asks court to reconsider ruling in breakaway lawsuit

February 13, 2015

The Episcopal Church and its local diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, today filed a Motion for Reconsideration asking Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein to reverse a ruling that a breakaway group can keep the name and property of the “Diocese of South Carolina,” even though it has left the church.

The 180-page motion examines the judge’s February 3 ruling page by page, taking issue with “findings of fact” and conclusions in the 46-page order and citing dozens of instances in which the ruling doesn’t fully address evidence, makes incorrect statements, or fails to consider relevant points of law. Such a motion must be filed within 10 days of the order, and the judge must respond to it, before an appeal can be filed.

TECSC is the recognized diocese of The Episcopal Church, representing some 30 congregations of local Episcopalians who have remained part of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The breakaway group, an unaffiliated organization led by Mark Lawrence that continues to call itself the “Diocese of South Carolina,” filed the lawsuit against TEC and the local diocese in 2013. A three-week trial was held in July 2014.

According to the Motion for Reconsideration filed today, the February 3 order “fails to consider the true nature of this dispute and the real parties in interest.” It also fails to take into account that a substantial number of people in the diocese opposed the actions taken by the breakaway group, the motion says.

“This dispute cannot fairly be characterized as being between unified South Carolinians and a far off organization headquartered in New York. It is very much a dispute between and among South Carolinians,” the motion says. The breakaway leaders “have disregarded and taken property away from their South Carolina neighbors.”

The motion also notes that the order does not address the major constitutional principle at stake: The freedom of a hierarchical church to govern its own affairs. The breakaway group has relied on the S.C. Supreme Court’s 2009 All Saints decision, arguing that the court must use the “neutral principles” approach and ignore church law, deciding the case solely under state corporation law.

“On multiple grounds… the Order’s interpretation of All Saints is unconstitutional,” the motion says. “In a discriminatory manner, it favors breakaway religious sects, whose leaders are essentially given a judicial license to take from long established religious organizations to endow their new organizations.”

The legal strategy is preserving error for appeal. Most observer’s do not expect the trial judge to be swayed. The diocese is pointing out the errors so that in can use them in its eventual appeal of the judge’s decision.

Posted by John B. Chilton

Edited on 2/20/15


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c seitz

Illinois was an appellate ruling. Estopped.

No, they are saying Jones is not what you hope it is!

David Streever

Do you interpret Jones v Wolf as meaning that the courts will give preference to the hierarchical leadership of a church in the case of a property dispute? It seems that is easy to infer from the case, but I’m not sure what Seitz is referring to as your hope for the case and the precedent it establishes.

John Wirenius

Some state judges have said that. A minority, that is. And they are saying that Jones doesn’t mean what it says, so, color me unimpressed.

c seitz

State court judges are not saying that they are breaking from Jones v. Wolf and SCOTUS. They are saying the interpretation you are giving of the Dennis Canon is not true to Jones v. Wolf.

John Wirenius

As the software doesn’t permit replies to replies, I’ll just add that the cases have thus far mostly been in line with the Court finding the Dennis Canon sufficient either on its face or in conjunction with other evidence to establish a trust. That state courts do not always apply Supreme Court precedents as written is an unfortunate fact.

I haven’t seen a more recent roundup from A.S. Haley than this one–which misses the S.C. interim win for the breakaway diocese and the final Virginia win for TEC, but here’s his 2013 roundup:

c seitz

“…the Dennis Canon itself” — I think you mean, *the hoped for effect* of a Dennis canon.

An implied trust is proving not durable, and properly so, as judges get acquainted with the peculiar hybrid polity of TEC.

And of course, let’s not forget all those dioceses which simply ignored the entire idea of an ‘accession’ altogether.

What will be curious to track is whether TEC tries to pursue express trust relationships with dioceses. That will be uphill sledding.

The supremacy clause language has been consistently voted down, and that would augur poorly for express trusts.

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