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News from the courts in South Carolina

News from the courts in South Carolina

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina reports on the latest developments in court cases that have been ongoing since the diocese was split by the separation of Bishop Mark Lawrence and fifty-four local parishes from the Episcopal Church in 2012.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel has granted motions to expand a federal false-advertising and trademark infringement lawsuit against the bishop of a group that left The Episcopal Church, adding as defendants the breakaway organization and parishes that followed Bishop Mark Lawrence in separating from The Episcopal Church.
The 12-page order and opinion in the case known as vonRosenberg v. Lawrence adds as defendants to the case the diocesan organization operating under Bishop Lawrence, diocesan trustees that are also operating under Bishop Lawrence, and 54 parishes that followed Bishop Lawrence after the 2012 split. Those groups have been operating under the name “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina,” and the confusion created by that is one facet of the trademark and false-advertising claims. 
“The Court therefore grants Plaintiffs’ motions insofar as they seek to assert trademark infringement and false advertising claims against the Lawrence Diocese, parishes associated with the Lawrence Diocese, and the Trustees Corporation,” the order says. 
The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC) and The Episcopal Church (TEC) sought the expansion in hopes that federal court could help bring a final resolution to more than five years of legal proceedings, and allow all parties to begin working together to heal the divided diocese and restore unity to its people and parishes. 

The judge ruled against a motion from the TEC and TECSC asking the federal court to take over the trust issues raised by a 2017 South Carolina Supreme Court ruling.

…The judge denied motions by the Episcopal parties asking the federal court to take jurisdiction over trust issues raised by the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling of August 2, 2017 regarding 28 parishes. TEC and TECSC had asked the judge to remove vestry members who could not demonstrate to the court’s satisfaction that they are “capable of and willing to carry out their fiduciary obligations to The Episcopal Church” and replace them with others who could do so.
The judge wrote that accepting jurisdiction over the trust issues would “foster an excessive judicial entanglement with religion.” 
“The better solution to the problem might be for TEC to take possession of the properties, rather than asking a federal court to assist the management of the properties,” he wrote. “And the better forum for enforcement of the South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision concerning TEC’s real property rights is … the Dorchester County Court of Common Pleas, where these issues have been litigated for over five years.” The state Supreme Court “remitted” the case to the Dorchester County court, meaning it is responsible for seeing that its final order of August 2, 2017 is carried out. 

The website of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina has further details of today’s ruling.


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Not sure about S.C.cannons,but in the Diocese of GA.a parish that fails to file an annual parish report can be declared a “parish at risk” and the Standing Committee has the option to dismiss the Wardens and Vestry and assume direct operation of the parish.If applicable in S.C. initiating this approach on a one at the time parish by parish approach might be more productive than seeking a widespread ruling from a Dorchester County Court which has already shown bias in favor of the breakaways.

Jon White

As those parishes don’t recognize the authority of the TEC bishop, I’m not sure how that would work. One of the reasons this dispute is ongoing is because the previous TEC bishop (Lawrence) granted each parish a quit-claim deed and then led the diocese to vote itself no longer part of TEC.


It no longer matters from a legal perspective whether the parishes recognize the Episcopal Church Bishop’s authority.The S.C. Supreme Court does and the U.S. District Judge has reccomended that the lEpiscopal Church and it’s Diocese lshould proceed to take possession of the properties An interim Priest in Charge can be appointed and the parish notified when he/she will take charge.Attempts to interfere with that transition can be countered with Court Orders obtained by the legitimate Diocese recognized by that State’s Supreme Court.

Kenneth Knapp

I don’t have any expertise in real estate law or cannon law, but I would be surprised if the PECUSA diocese has the resources to operate and maintain 54 churches regardless of their legal right to do so.

Prof Christopher Seitz

One does wonder what the next move is, apropos your observation about the viability of parishes when cut in half and more, by conservative estimates. There are also the logistical and PR dimensions. Does the TEC group–it is not a diocese as such–just arrive with the police and demand keys and assets? I hear the court saying it isn’t going to declare that vestries and trustees and clergy are illegitimate from on high.


I agree with the good professor on the PR issue.Some people have remainded in the breakaway parishes because that is “home” ,not because of any particular adherence to ACNA theology.The expectation is they will remain with the parish as it transitions back into ECUSA.It’s crucial not to alienate them.That’s why I suggested the Parish at risk approach as perhaps one of the least volatile solutions.However,I have learned since posting that key decision makers in S.C. do not believe that is a viable solution.

Kenneth Knapp

It would be interesting to know how this has played out in dioceses that have already got their buildings back. I think there was some expectation in Virginia that people would come with the buildings, but I haven’t seen any data that would suggest that this was actually the case.

Cynthia Katsarelis

I don’t know the answer to Kenneth’s question, but I thought that this link to The Falls Church in Virginia was very interesting.

Prof Christopher Seitz

Useful to read the entire twelve page order and opinion. The court refuses to enter into judgment re: removal of trustees etc as this entangles them in religious affairs inappropriately. Hard to see this as much progress on the part of TEC.

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