Appeals court denies diocesan motion for reconsideration

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today denied a petition for rehearing, affirming its March 31 ruling that sent vonRosenberg v. Lawrence back to U.S. District Court in Charleston.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today denied a petition for rehearing filed by attorneys for Mark Lawrence, affirming its March 31 ruling in favor of Bishop Charles G. vonRosenberg of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina that sent vonRosenberg v. Lawrence back to U.S. District Court in Charleston.

The one-page ruling from the appeals court comes only 15 days after the petition for rehearing was filed by attorneys who are representing Bishop Lawrence and others who have left The Episcopal Church.

“We are pleased that the court denied this effort at delaying this case, and we are hopeful that the federal court in Charleston will soon be able to address this case on its merits so we can bring an end to the confusion being caused by the breakaway parties,” said Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr., Chancellor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. 

The appeal 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.

The federal lawsuit was filed in March 2013, a few months after Bishop Lawrence announced he had left The Episcopal Church and subsequently was removed as a bishop of the church. In August 2013, U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck granted Bishop Lawrence’s motion to abstain from the case, citing the fact that another lawsuit arising from the schism was also pending in state court, filed by the breakaway group.

After hearing oral arguments in Richmond, Va., on January 28, a three-judge panel led by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz issued a published opinion finding that Judge Houck erred by applying the wrong legal standard in his decision to abstain when he cited the Brillhart v. Excess Insurance Co. of America and Wilton v. Seven Falls Co. decisions.

Bishop vonRosenberg’s appeal contended that the judge should have followed the principles set forth in the Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States decision, which says the court may abstain only in “exceptional” circumstances.

“Nothing in the record in this case indicates that Bishop vonRosenberg’s request for injunctive relief is frivolous or designed to avoid application of theBrillhart/Wilton standard. Accordingly, the Colorado River standard governs the abstention question here,” Judge Motz wrote. 

The case now goes back to U.S. District Court in Charleston for a hearing on whether such “exceptional” circumstances are present in the case under theColorado River standard. If not, then the U.S. District Court would be expected to hear the case on its merits.

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