Support the Café

Search our Site

Motion filed to expand federal lawsuit over intellectual property in South Carolina

Motion filed to expand federal lawsuit over intellectual property in South Carolina

Update from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina


The Episcopal Church(TEC), The Episcopal Church in South Carolina(TECSC), and its Bishop have asked a federal judge to expand a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in hopes of bringing clarity to the confusion caused when a group led by Bishop Mark Lawrence broke away from The Episcopal Church in 2012-13.

The legal action filed with Judge Richard Gergel on Thursday, March 1, asks the court to declare that the breakaway group has been engaged in false advertising and trademark infringement, and seeks an injunction to prevent the group from using words and symbols that cause confusion about which group they are affiliated with.

The amended complaint also asks the court to identify leaders in the breakaway churches who want to remain with The Episcopal Church, so they can begin working with Bishop Skip Adams and TECSC on transitions aimed at assisting parishioners who want to remain in their churches.

“We are asking the federal court to help bring a final resolution to the legal proceedings that all sides have endured since 2013,” said Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr., Chancellor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. “Our goal is to hasten the day when we can begin working together to heal our divisions and assist the people and parishes of our diocese through the transitions ahead.”


Trusts and trustees

The amended complaint asks Judge Gergel to take jurisdiction over an important part of that transition: the designation of trustees. Legally, all the property and assets of a diocese are overseen by diocesan trustees, who hold everything in trust for The Episcopal Church and its diocese. Likewise, vestries serve as trustees for each parish.

For that reason, the federal action asks the court to take jurisdiction over trust issues, and order the trustees and vestries to remove members “who cannot demonstrate to this Court’s satisfaction that they are capable of and willing to carry out their fiduciary obligations” to TECSC, and replace them with members who can. This is intended to protect property and assets on behalf of the people who want to remain in The Episcopal Church and continue to worship in their home parishes.


Clarifying the status of churches

In all, 54 parishes are named in the amended complaint. Two-thirds of those were plaintiffs in the state lawsuit filed by the breakaway group in 2013 against The Episcopal Church, seeking to retain control of diocesan and parish property.  The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled against the breakaway group in August 2017, finding that the property of the diocese and 28 parishes is held in trust for the Church.

The breakaway group has filed a petition asking the United States Supreme Court to hear the case and reverse the state court ruling on parish properties. A decision is expected this spring on whether the Supreme Court will agree to review the decision or let it stand.

Not addressed by the state litigation is the status of 18 parishes whose clergy aligned themselves with the breakaway group, but who were not part of the state lawsuit. The expanded federal complaint seeks to bring clarity about their status as Episcopal churches.

As with all the churches that were part of the historic Diocese of South Carolina, these churches identified themselves as Episcopal Churches prior to the split, and have continued to do so even after 2012.

Prior to 2012, churches in the Diocese of South Carolina agreed to be governed by The Episcopal Church’s constitution and canons. Under church law, all church properties are held in trust; that “trust interest” means that each parish owns its own property, but is legally required to use it for the benefit of The Episcopal Church and TECSC.


The federal lawsuit

The federal case, known as vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, initially began in 2013 when the Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, who was then Bishop of TECSC, filed suit against Mark Lawrence on federal false-advertising claims under the Lanham Act. In 2017, two additional plaintiffs were added: Bishop Adams, who succeeded Bishop vonRosenberg as Bishop of TECSC, and The Episcopal Church.

Until last month, the federal case had been on hold since October 2017 under a stay issued by Judge Gergel so all the parties in the case could begin a mediation process. That process is still ongoing. In February, citing updates he received on the mediation from all the parties, the judge lifted the stay and issued a scheduling order so the case could proceed to trial in September 2018.


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Fr. Will McQueen

So coming off of the heels of the Diocese of Pittsburgh reaching an amicable agreement regarding property the TEC entity in South Carolina doubles down and expands its lawsuit. It really does go to show how godless Bp. Skip Adams truly is. He did the same thing in NY and is doing the exact same thing now in the Low Country. When is TEC going to acknowledge that there are simply not enough loyal Episcopalians in the Lower Diocese to fill these churches and simply come back to the table to reach some type of settlement? Of course I think we all know that the only true property at stake here is Camp St. Christopher which TECSC knows is the crown jewel and must not be negotiated away. Mammon worship 101.


When I was Professor of Old Testament at Yale, +Dorsey was the chaplain for episcopal students. Smart, warm, witty; He was called to be Bishop by a diocese, after prayer, walkabouts, discernment, and voting. He has done a first rate job with this challenge. Kudos. The Bishop overseeing affairs in SC is, like his predecessor, a Bishop retired from a diocese. He is taking marching orders that he welcomed as part of the job. That is a big difference, and gets at how the entity in SC is not a diocese like Pittsburgh, but a collection of parishes dug into a protracted set of lawsuits. Doubling down on the one being reported here, as you put it. Good on +Pittsburgh.


Jon. But it isn’t a Diocese. That is the entire point. It is TECSC by its own admission. You are calling it something it is not. And cannot call itself. Lenten wishes.

Jon White

You are being deliberately obtuse. It most certainly is a diocese, the dispute is over who owns the name “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.” That’s an issue of marketing, not ecclessiology. The construction they are using is akin to a DBA and is certainly not an admission or claim that they are NOT a diocese.

Professor Christopher Seitz

It is not a diocese of TEC and has never claimed to be. Why not respect their own language as used in the essay itself?

At issue is not something oddly called ‘obtuse’ but something simple and straightforward, viz., at present the ecclesial entity in SC (TECSC) is in the middle of a copyright infringement suit whose outcome will determine whether the historical diocese must surrender its name and trademark, symbols, etc. That verdict has not been decided. That is indeed the very content of the essay you have posted.

If TECSC wins the lawsuit then it will want to use the name that at present belongs legally to the historical diocese, or so one supposes. If it were to pass itself off as a Diocese now, it would be tantamount to indicating it is the novelty, and so call into question its claim to be the historical diocese.

You continue to confuse the issue. Thank God the entity TECSC knows better.

Tripp Lee

^ What Prof. Seitz said! (Who I had the honor of waking up during Cursillo at Camp St. Christopher!


The article accurately describes the lawsuit as initiated by The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC). Why has the Cafe changed that? It has replaced the text of the article with the phrase “The Episcopal Diocese in Lower South Carolina” — an entity that does not exist. That is what they are suing for. That is precisely why TECSC has not used the phrase. It would be illegal to do so.

Jon White

To differentiate it from the diocese in upper South Carolina of course.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café