South Carolina Supreme Court to hear church property case

The South Carolina Supreme Court today granted The Episcopal Church in South Carolina’s motion and will hear the appeal of a circuit court decision giving the name and property of the local diocese to a breakaway group.

The South Carolina Supreme Court today granted The Episcopal Church in South Carolina’s motion and will hear the appeal of a circuit court decision giving the name and property of the local Episcopal Church diocese to a breakaway group.

The court also denied a motion from the breakaway group for a greatly expedited schedule in the case, and set September 23, 2015 as the date for oral arguments in the case, saying that no extensions would be granted. TECSC had asked the court to take the case, bypassing the state Court of Appeals, in an effort to avoid expense and delay for all parties.

Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr., Chancellor of TECSC, said the diocese now has 30 days in which to file briefs in the appeal.

“We are pleased that the court has agreed to hear the case and we look forward to presenting our positions on these important issues before the Supreme Court,” Chancellor Tisdale said.

TECSC, noting the large number of attorneys in the case – including more than 40 for the plaintiffs of the breakaway group – asked the Supreme Court to allow court documents to be provided in electronic format and reduce the number of paper copies. The court granted that motion. The order also reminded all parties in the appeal that they have a duty to pare down the lower court record and present only the materials necessary to help the court in “rendering an educated decision.”

TECSC represents 30 congregations and about 7,000 Episcopalians who remained part of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion after a breakaway group announced it was leaving the church in November 2012. A few months after the split, the breakaway group sued The Episcopal Church, and later added TECSC as a defendant, seeking control of all the diocesan property, the official name and seal, and the properties of the parishes who joined as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

That case went to trial in July 2014 in Circuit Court in St. George before Judge Diane S. Goodstein. In February, Judge Goodstein ruled in favor of the breakaway group. TECSC and The Episcopal Church filed a Motion for Reconsideration which took issue with “findings of fact” and conclusions in the 46-page order and cited dozens of instances in which the ruling doesn’t fully address evidence, makes incorrect statements, or fails to consider relevant points of law. The judge rejected the motion February 13, clearing the way for the appeal, which was filed March 24.

Also, in a separate federal legal case involving the church schism, attorneys for Mark Lawrence, bishop of the breakaway group, filed a Petition for Rehearing on April 14 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in vonRosenberg v. Lawrence. The petition asks the appeals court to reconsider its March 31 ruling in favor of the Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg of TECSC. The ruling sent the case back to U.S. District Court in Charleston for another hearing. 

The federal case focuses on the issue of false advertising under the federal Lanham Act. Bishop vonRosenberg is the only bishop recognized by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. Mark Lawrence, by continuing to represent himself as bishop of the diocese, is committing false advertising, according to a brief filed with the appeals court in 2014. The suit seeks an injunction against Bishop Lawrence.
 

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