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.