For the second time in less than a month, South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein rejected arguments by The Episcopal Church and its subsidiary, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, that the two groups are rightful owners of the churches, symbols and other assets of the Diocese of South Carolina.
ST. GEORGE, S.C. (Feb. 22, 2015) – For the second time in less than a month, South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein rejected arguments by The Episcopal Church and its subsidiary, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, that the two groups are rightful owners of the churches, symbols and other assets of the Diocese of South Carolina.
In her Order denying the motion for reconsideration she stated, “Large portions of the motion are simply the proposed orders previously submitted to the Court or reiterations of the Defendants’ positions at trial.”
The motion had also argued that because the Diocese had argued legal positions in the All Saints case contrary to those now being presented, that Judicial Estoppel should apply. In response, Judge Goodstein sharply noted… “The court finds that the Judicial Estoppel argument is without merit….If the Defendants’ argument in the instant action was correct, no party previously adjudicated to be wrong would be able to correct their conduct in compliance with a court’s holding. Such a result would be contrary to all sense of justice and order… With regards all other matters presented in Defendants’ Motion for Reconsideration, they are hereby denied.”
Earlier this month, Judge Goodstein ruled that the Diocese of South Carolina, its trustees and the 50 parishes — representing 80 percent of the members — that disassociated with the Diocese successfully withdrew from TEC in 2012, taking all their property, including churches, symbols and other assets. The ruling was the result of a three-week trial last summer in which over 50 witnesses testified.
TEC, dissatisfied with that decision, submitted a 182-page motion criticizing Judge Goodstein’s ruling, challenging her findings, arguing that she ignored evidence and demanding that she reverse her decision.
However, according to attorneys for the Plaintiff in the response they filed this morning, seventy percent of the motion contained TEC’s previously submitted proposed orders already rejected by the court. “In many places, the motion still contained the language of the “proposed order” from which it was lifted verbatim,” Jim Lewis, Canon to Bishop Lawrence said. As counsel for the Diocese of South Carolina stated in the response: “The law is intended to be, and in fact is, a highway for litigants to travel …it is not a carousel on which litigants are to ride in never-ending circular journeying.” The response concluded:
“It is time for the Defendants to move on down the road, in pursuit of whatever appellate remedies they seek. …the motion should be expeditiously denied allowing the Defendants to continue on the appellate highway they seem intent on traveling.”
South Carolina rules allow that such motions to reconsider are meant to address questions raised at trial but not answered in the final ruling. An issue may not be raised the first time in a post-trial motion. “Yet 42 pages of the defendants’ motion was devoted to issues that were not raised at trial,” Lewis said.
While TEC Bishop Charles vonRosenberg has repeatedly made public pronouncements insisting that he wants to reconcile with the Diocese, his attorneys have continually filed a stream of appeals and other legal actions designed to delay court decisions. The delaying tactics succeeded in postponing the South Carolina trial by many months – and driving the cost of litigation into the millions of dollars. TEC has a history of using legal action to punish congregations and dioceses that leave the denomination. It has spent up to $40 million in these legal actions during the last decade.
A clear example comes from the Diocese of Quincy. After losing at the trial and appeals court level, the Illinois Supreme Court last November refused to hear an appeal in TEC’s failed case, which allowed the disassociating diocese to keep its property. TEC then attempted to get 18% of the previously requested 100% of Quincy’s assets. On Feb. 20, the Illinois circuit court reaffirmed its October 2013 ruling: “plaintiffs won”, and imposed sanctions on TEC for its conduct.
“The court finds based upon this record, that the continued threat made … even after this case had run its course through the appellate process constitutes bad faith, is not grounded in fact or existing law and has resulted in needless, ongoing and expensive litigation,” the Illinois ruling declared.
The ruling requires that TEC “cease and desist” and that the denomination pay the legal costs of the disassociated Diocese of Quincy.
Judge Goodstein’s decision is the latest legal loss for TEC, which has lost 17.4 percent of its members and experienced a reduction of nearly 24 percent in average Sunday attendance since 2003. Lewis said that TEC’s continued use of litigation to bully dissidents who disagree with their abandonment of historical Anglican theology shows the denomination is desperate to try and stop the decline – even if it must threaten members to discourage their departure.
“Their policy of using legal action to drain the finances of dissident congregations is not working,” Lewis said. “It only deflects denomination resources from projects to promote the faith and speeds the downward spiral of the Episcopal Church.”
In Texas, the denomination failed in its efforts to get its lawsuit against the Diocese of Fort Worth reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case will now resume in a Texas trial court, under findings by the Texas Supreme Court that favor the Anglican diocese.