90 lawsuits and counting for the Episcopal Church

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It is a fact well known to certain Episcopalians—both those who have left the Episcopal Church (USA) and those who have remained—that ECUSA and its dioceses have followed a pattern of suing any church that chooses to leave for another Anglican jurisdiction. But the full extent of the litigation that has ensued is not well known at all, either in the wider Church, or among the provinces of the Anglican Communion.

Your Curmudgeon proposes to do what he can to rectify this situation, by publishing an annual update on this site of the current status of all past and present cases in which ECUSA or any of its dioceses has been or is involved, from 2000 to date. Feel free to link to this post, to email links to it to other Episcopalians, and to send it to your Bishop — and feel free to post any updates or corrections in the comments. In another update to be posted in the next few days, I will published a revised total for all of the money spent by ECUSA and its Dioceses to date on prosecuting all of these lawsuits (and, in the case of the second group below, defending them).

The lawsuits initiated by ECUSA and its dioceses to date are first listed below, followed by a list of the seven cases begun by a diocese or parish against the Episcopal Church (or a diocese). The listing endeavors to be as complete as I can make it. The first 83 cases, generally grouped by the State in which they each originated, are the legal actions filed since 2000 (of which I am aware) where the Episcopal Church (USA) and/or one of its dioceses played the role of plaintiff—the party who initiates a case in court by filing a complaint to seize the assets and real property of any church choosing to leave ECUSA. Please note that wherever possible the actual citation of any published decision in the case has been given. Also, please note the dates for the later cases, which demonstrate the acceleration of litigation by ECUSA and its dioceses in defiant rejection of the Primates’ call for a moratorium on litigation at the Dar es Salaam meeting.

1. Against Christ Anglican Church in Mobile, Alabama (plaintiff was the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast—the suit settled in 2001 before trial, and Anglican congregation moved out; they built a brand-new church in 2005, while the historic Episcopal site became the cathedral of the Diocese that same year)

2.-4. Against St. John’s Episcopal Church in Fallbrook, California (CA); St. Anne’s, in Oceanside CA; and Holy Trinity, in Ocean Beach, CA (plaintiff in all three cases is the Diocese of San Diego — trial court ruled against the two latter parishes following the decision by the California Supreme Court in the St. James Newport Beach case; parishes decided not to appeal)

5. New case by TEC against St. John’s Episcopal Church in Fallbrook, CA: Dale W. New, Richard L. Goodlake and the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego v. The Rev. Donald L. Kroeger, et al. (following its decision in the St. James case (No. 6 below), the California Supreme Court ordered republished the decision of the Fourth Appellate District [167 Cal.App.4th 800, 84 Cal.Rptr.3d 464 (2008)], awarding the property to the plaintiff Diocese of San Diego; the defendants did not seek further review)

6-8. Against St. James Anglican Church, Newport Beach CA and two others; Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and ECUSA v. St. James (Newport Beach) et al. (lead case), Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and ECUSA v. All Saints (Long Beach) et al., Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and ECUSA v. St. David’s (North Hollywood) et al.; Episcopal Church Cases, S155094 (Diocese of Los Angeles is plaintiff, joined by ECUSA; following its decision overruling the defendants’ demurrers and reversing the trial court’s grant of a motion to strike [45 Cal.4th 467, 87 Cal.Rptr.3d 275, 198 P.3d 66, cert. denied, 130 S.Ct. 179 (2009)], the California Supreme Court subsequently reversed a judgment entered against St. James and ordered that the case go forward; trial court granted a questionable summary judgment which is now on appeal. Similar trial court rulings against the other two parishes are also on appeal.)

9. Against St. Luke’s of the Mountains Anglican Church, et al, La Crescenta CA; Patricia Huber, The Right Rev. Sergio Carranza, The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Los Angeles, The Right Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles v. The Rev. Dr. Ronald W. Jackson, St. Luke’s of the Mountains Anglican Church, et al. (Fourth Appellate District ruled in favor of Plaintiff Diocese of Los Angeles [175 Cal.App.4th 663, 96 Cal.Rptr.3d 346]; parish decided not to appeal further)

10. Against St. John’s Anglican Church in Petaluma, CA ; Episcopal Diocese of Northern California v. St. John’s Anglican Church, Petaluma (Sonoma County Superior Court; parties agreed to settle following California Supreme Court decision, parish moved to another location and is now a member of ACNA); (Diocese of Northern California was plaintiff)

11. Against Bishop John David Schofield and the diocesan investment fund in the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, CA (ACNA); Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, The Rt. Rev. Jerry A. Lamb and The Episcopal Church v. Bishop John-David Schofield and The Episcopal Foundation of San Joaquin (Fresno Superior Court; case involves the Diocese of San Joaquin withdrawing from the Episcopal Church); (the TEC-established and -funded Diocese of San Joaquin is the Plaintiff); case is back in Superior Court after successful appeal by Bishop Schofield to the Fifth Appellate District [190 Cal.App.4th 154, 118 Cal.Rptr.3d 160]; trial was held in Fresno in early January; cases will be submitted March 17 for decision after final briefing).

12-20. Against St. Columba’s Fresno, CA and its rector and its vestry members, in Fresno County Superior Court (2010); St. Francis Anglican Parish of Turlock, and its rector and its vestry members, in Stanislaus County Superior Court (2010); St. Michael’s Anglican Parish of Ridgecrest, and its rector and its vestry members, in Kern County Superior Court (2010); the Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of St. John’s Parish in Porterville, California, in Tulare County Superior Court (2010); St. James Church, Sonora, and its rector and its vestry members, in Tuolumne County Superior Court (2010); the Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of Redeemer Parish in Delano, California, in Kern County Superior Court (2010); the Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of St. Paul’s Parish in Visalia, California, in Tulare County Superior Court (2010); St. Paul’s Anglican parish in Bakersfield, California, and its rector and its vestry members, in Kern County Superior Court (2010); the Wardens and Vestry of St. John’s, Stockton, and its rector and its vestry members, in San Joaquin County Superior Court (2010); (plaintiffs are the remnant diocese of San Joaquin and its bishop; suits seek an order turning over control of all parish property to the bishop of the remnant diocese; Superior Court of Fresno County denied a motion to consolidate all nine cases with the one alrerady pending there [No. 11 above]; cases are in various stages of discovery)

21-29. Against the rectors and vestry members of the same nine parishes in Nos. 61-69 above, in the same Superior Courts in CA, respectively (2011) (these are complaints in intervention filed by the Episcopal Church)

30. Against Trinity Anglican Church in Bristol, Connecticut (CT) (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Connecticut; case settled in 2008; congregation left property to the Diocese)

31. Against The Rector and former vestry of Bishop Seabury Church in Groton, CT; (Plaintiff was the Diocese of Connecticut; parish lost decision in trial court, and Connecticut Supreme Court recently affirmed that decision [302 Conn. 408, 28 A.3d 302]; parish’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in June 2012, along with a Presbyterian case from Georgia [132 Sup.Ct. 2773])

32. Against Redeemer Anglican Church in Jacksonville, Florida (FL): Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Florida v. Lebhar, Case No. 16-2006-CA-002361 (Duval Cnty. Fla. Cir Ct.) (plaintiff was the Diocese of Florida; parish left property to go to other premises)

33. Against St. Andrew’s in the Pines Anglican Church, Fayette County, Georgia, Superior Court, Civil Action No. 2007-V0272C, October 2007 (Plaintiff was the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta; parish left its property behind and formed a CANA congregation)

34. Against Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia, GA; Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, Inc., The Episcopal Church, et al. v. The Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of Christ Church in Savannah, et al., (Civil Action No. CV07-2039KA, Superior Ct., Chatham County). (Plaintiffs Diocese of Georgia and ECUSA, joined subsequently by shadow congregation formed by the Diocese, won in Court of Appeal and recently in Georgia Supreme Court [290 Ga. 95, 718 S.E.2d 237]; congregation handed over keys to property on 12/12/2011 and later dismissed petition to U.S. Supreme Court, is now building a new church)

35. Against Bishop Alberto Morales, of the Anglican Diocese of Quincy, IL, members of the diocesan standing committee, and the rectors of fifteen parishes in the diocese, individually (plaintiffs are ECUSA and its Diocese of Chicago, into which the rump diocese merged on September 1, 2013; case has been placed on hold pending the outcome of the appeal in the case originally brought against ECUSA by the Anglican Diocese — see case number 5 in the second group below)

36. Against All Saints Church in Attleboro, Massachusetts (MA) (plaintiff was the Diocese of Massachusetts; the case settled in 2007)

37. Against Church of the Good Shepherd, Town and Country, Missouri (MO) (plaintiffs were Bishop Wayne Smith of the Diocese of Missouri and ECUSA [joined as a necessary party, due to its claimed interest under the Dennis Canon]; trial court awarded the church property to the Diocese on summary judgment in October 2004; majority of parish left to start AMiA parish at other premises; Episcopal congregation remains in possession)

38. Against St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Morehead City, North Carolina (NC) (plaintiff was the Diocese of East Carolina and those members of the parish who had not voted to join AMiA; following a jury mistrial, plaintiffs obtained summary judgment which was affirmed on appeal in Daniel v. Wray, 580 S.E.2d 711 [N.C. App. 2003])

39. Against the Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York (NY); The Diocese of Central New York v. The Rector, Church Wardens, and Vestrymen of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Index No. 2008-0980 (N.Y. Sup Ct. Broome Cnty) (Plaintiff was the Diocese of Central New York, joined by TEC; trial court ruled in favor of Diocese, parish chose to move to other premises, and Diocese eventually sold church buildings to Muslim group for a mosque)

40. Against St. Joseph’s Anglican Church (formerly Trinity Church of East New York) in Brooklyn, NY, which originally separated from ECUSA in 1977, before the adoption of the Dennis Canon (plaintiff was the Diocese of Long Island, in a second action brought in 2005 after it lost its first suit, filed in the early 1980’s—the case settled early in 2008, and St. Joseph’s kept its property in exchange for a below-market value payment of $275,000)

41. Against St. James Anglican Church in Elmhurst (Queens), NY (plaintiff was the Diocese of Long Island; summary judgment against the parish in March 2008 was not appealed)

42. Against All Saints Protestant Episcopal Church in Rochester, NY; Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, et al. v. Harnish et al., Index No. 2006-2669 (N.Y. Sup Ct. Monroe Cnty.) (plaintiff was the Diocese of Rochester; N.Y. Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Diocese, based on NY statute giving effect to Dennis Canon [11 N.Y.3d 340, 899 N.E.2d 920 [2008])

43. Against St. Andrew’s in Syracuse, NY; Diocese of Central New York, et al. v. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Index No. 2006-4606 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Onondaga Cnty.) (plaintiff originally was the Diocese of Central New York, and TEC’s Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society later intervened—Diocese refused to settle the lawsuit by leasing property to parish, so parish walked away in 2007)

44. Against St. Barnabas Anglican Church, Omaha, Nebraska (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Nebraska; trial court denied parish’s motion for summary judgment, and granted summary judgment to the Diocese; the case settled on appeal, and parish purchased its building)

45-49. Against St. Luke’s Church in Akron, Ohio (OH) and four other northeast Ohio parishes; The Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, et al.v. Anglican Church of the Transfiguration, et al., Civil Action No CV 08 654973 (Cuyahoga County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas); (plaintiff is the Diocese of Ohio; trial court granted summary judgment in its favor, and parishes have left their properties)

50. Against the Church of St. James the Less, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PA); In re Church of St. James the Less, 585 Pa. 428; 888 A.2d 795 (2005); (Plaintiff was the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and ultimately prevailed in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2005; other than its use for a middle school, this historic church building remains still without a rector and a supporting local congregation as of 2014)

51-53. and ?? Against the 50+ churches of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican- Southern Cone). Plaintiff is the TEC replacement Diocese of Pittsburgh, arising out of an earlier lawsuit initiated by Calvary Church, Pittsburgh against Bishop Duncan and the Diocese of Pittsburgh to prevent them from leaving TEC. The judgment by the trial court required the Anglican Diocese to turn over all of its property to the remnant Episcopal Diocese, was affirmed by the Commonwealth Court in early 2011, and review was later denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Two parishes have since settled with the remnant diocese, which demanded that the first (St. Philip’s) disaffiliate from the Anglican Diocese, and that the second (Somerset Anglican Fellowship, which did not own any real property) return all of its personal property, and not support any litigation against the replacement diocese; a third parish (St. David’s) moved out rather than agree to have to “repurchase” its property. Negotiations are ongoing to settle the claims of the remnant diocese against the properties of the other parishes.

54.  Against Bishop Mark Lawrence personally, in Federal District Court in SC, on claims of trademark infringement (plaintiff was Provisional Bishop Charles G. vonRosenberg of the rump group established by ECUSA after the Diocese of SC withdrew; district judge’s dismissal of the lawsuit on abstention grounds is now on appeal to the Fourth Circuit; see also No. 7 in cases brought against ECUSA below)

55. Against St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Nashville, TN (Plaintiffs were the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee and Bishop Bauerschmidt) (Plaintiffs prevailed on summary judgment in the trial court, which was affirmed on appeal in an unreported decision in 2011; Tennessee Supreme Court recently denied review — parish has vacated its prime property and associated nursery school, and Bishop Bauerschmidt has moved his diocesan headquarters there)

56. Against Church of the Good Shepherd, San Angelo, Texas (TX) (Plaintiff is the Diocese of NW Texas; parish lost below and in the Court of Appeal, and after arguments in 2012, Texas Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal and remanded for proceedings using “neutral principles” without reference to the Dennis Canon, which the Court held was ineffective in Texas to create a trust; Diocese and ECUSA moved for rehearing, and parties are awaiting decision before case will go back to trial court)

57. Against the Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker and the other trustees of the Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, in the 141st District Court of Tarrant County, TX (Plaintiffs, the remnant diocese and its appointed bishop, were later joined by the Episcopal Church, and the lawsuit was subsequently broadened to include all individual parishes of the remnant diocese as cross-complainants, and all individual parishes of +Iker’s Episcopal Diocese as cross-defendants; the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the remnant diocese and its bishop in early 2011 is on a direct appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, which reversed the summary judgment and remanded the case for trial under “neutral principles”; parties currently await the Court’s decision on a petition for rehearing filed by ECUSA and the rump diocese)

58. Against St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church of Ft. Worth, in Hood County District Court, TX (Plaintiff is the remnant diocese of Ft. Worth and Bishop Ohl, its provisional bishop; plaintiff seeks to have the proceeds of a trust fund left to St. Andrew’s, which remains with Bishoip Iker and his Diocese, turned over to the remnant group; the trial court stayed the proceedings pending the outcome in the case described in the previous paragraph)

59. Against the Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker individually, for alleged trademark infringement, in federal district court in Ft. Worth (plaintiffs are the remnant diocese and its bishop; court dismissed the case after the ruling by the TX Supreme Court in No. 57 above)

60. Against The Rt. Rev. Jack Iker, individually, and unnamed agents and representatives acting with him as part of the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth, in federal district court in Ft. Worth (Plaintiffs are TEC funded and supported members of the vestry of All Saints Episcopal Church, Ft. Worth, as reported in a letter of January 21, 2009 published by Stand Firm; the grounds alleged are very similar to those alleged in the suit described in the previous paragraph; suit is on hold pending the outcome of the main case [No. 57 above])

61. Against Church of the Epiphany Herndon, Virginia (VA); The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Church of the Epiphany, Herndon, CL 2007-1235 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; note that parish filed initial petition to confirm its vote to affiliate with CANA pursuant to a “standstill” agreement with the Diocese, in order to allow negotiations over purchase price for property, that Diocese shortly afterward revoked that agreement on instructions from the new Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and filed this lawsuit – for its resolution, see news for cases 72-82 below)

62. Against Truro Church Fairfax VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Truro Church, CL 2007-1236 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; note that parish filed initial petition to confirm its vote to affiliate with CANA pursuant to a “standstill” agreement with the Diocese, in order to allow negotiations over purchase price for property, that Diocese shortly afterward revoked that agreement on instructions from the new Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and filed this lawsuit – for its resolution, see news for cases 72-82 below)

63. Against Christ the Redeemer Church, Chantilly VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Christ the Redeemer Church, CL 2007-1237 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; note that parish filed initial petition to confirm its vote to affiliate with CANA pursuant to a “standstill” agreement with the Diocese, in order to allow negotiations over purchase price for property, that Diocese shortly afterward revoked that agreement on instructions from the new Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and filed this lawsuit – for its resolution, see news for cases 72-82 below)

64. Against Church of the Apostles, Fairfax VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Church of the Apostles, CL 2007-1238 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; note that parish filed initial petition to confirm its vote to affiliate with CANA pursuant to a “standstill” agreement with the Diocese, in order to allow negotiations over purchase price for property, that Diocese shortly afterward revoked that agreement on instructions from the new Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and filed this lawsuit – for its resolution, see news for cases 72-82 below)

65. Against The Falls Church, Falls Church VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. The Church at The Falls – The Falls Church, CL 2007-5250 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.)(formerly Case No. 07-125, Circuit Court for Arlington County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; note that parish filed initial petition to confirm its vote to affiliate with CANA pursuant to a “standstill” agreement with the Diocese, in order to allow negotiations over purchase price for property, that Diocese shortly afterward revoked that agreement on instructions from the new Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and filed this lawsuit – for its resolution, see news for cases 72-82 below)

66. Against Potomac Falls Church, Potomac Falls VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of Virginia v. Potomac Falls Church, CL 2007-5362 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.)(formerly Case No. 44149, Circuit Court for Loudoun County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; note that parish filed initial petition to confirm its vote to affiliate with CANA pursuant to a “standstill” agreement with the Diocese, in order to allow negotiations over purchase price for property, that Diocese shortly afterward revoked that agreement on instructions from the new Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and filed this lawsuit – for its resolution, see news for cases 72-82 below)

67. Against Church of Our Saviour, Oatlands VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Church of Our Saviour at Oatlands, CL 2007-5364 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.) (formerly Case No. 44148, Circuit Court for Loudoun County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; note that parish filed initial petition to confirm its vote to affiliate with CANA pursuant to a “standstill” agreement with the Diocese, in order to allow negotiations over purchase price for property, that Diocese shortly afterward revoked that agreement on instructions from the new Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and filed this lawsuit – parish agreed to settle with Diocese in 2011 for a five-year leaseback of its property, in exchange for its disaffiliation from CANA and agreement not to affiliate with any other Anglican entity so long as they occupy the premises)

68. Against St. Margaret’s Church, Woodbridge VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. St. Margaret’s Church, CL 2007-5682 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.) (formerly Case No. CL 73465, Circuit Court for Prince William Cnty., Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; note that parish filed initial petition to confirm its vote to affiliate with CANA pursuant to a “standstill” agreement with the Diocese, in order to allow negotiations over purchase price for property, that Diocese shortly afterward revoked that agreement on instructions from the new Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and filed this lawsuit – for its resolution, see news for cases 72-82 below)

69. Against St. Paul’s Church, Haymarket VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. St. Paul’s Church, Haymarket, Case No. CL 73466 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.) (formerly CL 2007-5683, Prince William County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; note that parish filed initial petition to confirm its vote to affiliate with CANA pursuant to a “standstill” agreement with the Diocese, in order to allow negotiations over purchase price for property, that Diocese shortly afterward revoked that agreement on instructions from the new Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and filed this lawsuit – for its resolution, see news for cases 72-82 below)

70. Against Church of the Word, Gainesville VA: The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Church of the Word, CL 2007-5684 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va. )(formerly Case No. CL 73464, Circuit Court for Prince William County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; note that parish filed initial petition to confirm its vote to affiliate with CANA pursuant to a “standstill” agreement with the Diocese, in order to allow negotiations over purchase price for property, that Diocese shortly afterward revoked that agreement on instructions from the new Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and filed this lawsuit; parish agreed to settle with the Diocese in early 2011 on terms similar to those with the Church of Our Savior, Oatlands, but retained possession of its [reduced]  property by assigning to the Diocese the lion’s share of a condemnation award from the State of Virginia)

71. Against St. Stephen’s Church, Heathsville VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. St. Stephen’s Church, CL 2007-5902 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.)(formerly Case No. CL 07-16, Circuit Court for Northumberland County, Va); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; note that parish filed initial petition to confirm its vote to affiliate with CANA pursuant to a “standstill” agreement with the Diocese, in order to allow negotiations over purchase price for property, that Diocese shortly afterward revoked that agreement on instructions from the new Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and filed this lawsuit – for its resolution, see news for cases 72-82 below)

72-82. Against Truro Church and all of the Virginia Anglican churches affiliating with CANA above, Plaintiff is the Episcopal Church (USA); The Episcopal Church v. Truro Church, et al., CL 2007-1625 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va; case was tried again in Circuit Court in 2011 following reversal by Virginia Supreme Court in 2010 of trial court’s earlier decision in favor of parishes; trial court ruled this time in favor of Diocese; all but one defendant have surrendered their property to the Diocese, with Truro leasing theirs back for a limited time; only The Falls Church appealed to the Va. Supreme Court, which ruled against it on a strange “implied trust” theory in 2013; petition for certiorari is before the U.S. Supreme Court)

83. Against St. Edmunds Anglican Church, Elm Grove, Wisconsin (WI) (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Milwaukee) (trial court granted summary judgment against parish in 2011; parish later vacated the property, which remains vacant)

As a matter of fairness, I also list the number of cases where the Episcopal Church (USA) or one of its dioceses is the defendant and not the plaintiff. There are only seven instances, as shown below. But in all but the first, it was the diocese (or ECUSA) which triggered the filing of a lawsuit by moving to take control of the individual church’s assets, and the legal actions that followed were essentially a defensive response against those moves.

1. The earliest instance of a parish starting a lawsuit was in 2000, after a dispute arose between All Saints Parish, Pawley’s Island, South Carolina (SC), the Diocese of South Carolina, and TEC in connection with the formation of the Anglican Mission in America. The suit eventually found its way to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which in September 2009 issued a decision finding that the Dennis Canon did not create any kind of a trust interest in parish property under South Carolina law, and ruling that the property remained with the parish despite its disaffiliation from the Episcopal Church (385 S.C. 428, 685 S.E.2d 163).

2. An action was brought in 2005 in federal district court by six parishes and their rectors (the “Connecticut Six”) against the Diocese of Connecticut, whose bishop had suspended the priests in question and taken over some of the church properties. The court dismissed the lawsuit the next year, and the diocese has since brought the actions listed as Nos. 30 and 31 above.

3. Grace Church & St. Stephens, Colorado Springs, Colorado, sought declaratory judgment against the Bishop and the Diocese of Colorado. However, in that suit, the plaintiff church sought a simple declaration that the diocese had no right, title or interest in its property, in response to an attempt by the diocese to freeze the church’s bank accounts. The response of the diocese was to file a counterclaim against the church, its rector and 17 of its vestry and leading parishioners seeking millions of dollars in damages. The trial court granted judgment for the Diocese following a trial in 2009, and the parish chose not to appeal, but to move from the property to a new location.

4. The Diocese of the Rio Grande and St. Francis on the Hill (El Paso, TX): St. Francis began the suit with a claim for declaratory relief in response to the threat of suit by the diocese to take their property. Eventually the trial court granted summary judgment to the Diocese, and the parish left its property.

5. The Diocese of Quincy sued the Episcopal Church in 2009 for declaratory relief after the latter had asked the diocese’s bank to freeze its accounts. The trial court rendered a decision in the Diocese’s favor in September 2013, finding that there was no provision in ECUSA’s governing documents that kept a diocese from amending its constitution to remove the accession clause; ECUSA has filed an appeal, which is pending, and has asked to join the Diocese of Chicago, into which the rump diocese of Quincy merged in September 2013.

6. The parish of St. Paul’s in Groton, CT last year filed a petition with a local court for a declaration that its property was free and clear of any trust interest under the Dennis Canon. The parish remains in the Diocese of Connecticut pending the outcome of the lawsuit (note: news of the lawsuit would be welcome in the comments).

7. The Diocese of South Carolina sued the Episcopal Church in January 2013 in the Court of Common Pleas for Dorchester County after the Church began “abandonment of Communion” proceedings against the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, which action triggered the Diocese’s immediate withdrawal. The suit was filed before TEC could fulfill its announced intention to sue the Bishop and the Diocesan trustees for the Diocese’s property and bank accounts, once it reorganized a new Episcopal diocese at a special convention in January 2013. The court entered a restraining order against anyone but Bishop Lawrence and his agents using the name and marks of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, which ECUSA and later the rump diocese agreed could become a preliminary injunction pending the trial or further notice. Then the rump diocese removed the case to Federal District Court, which after eight months remanded the case to the Court of Common Pleas. That court denied the rump diocese’s motion to compel production of all emails and correspondence between Bishop Lawrence and his Chancellor, which order the rump diocese immediately appealed. The proceedings are currently stayed in trial court; Bishop Lawrence’s attorneys recently asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to take jurisdiction of the appeal.

This article first appeared in the Anglican Curmudgeon.