South Carolina Circuit Court Hears Arguments on Betterments Statute and Orders Mediation

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Immediately on the heels of The South Carolina Supreme Court on June 28,  denying the Petition for a Writ of Mandamus submitted by The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC), Judge Edgar W. Dickson promptly resumed proceedings on the related legal matters.  The hearing on the Betterments Statute issues, which had been cancelled in March when the petition for Mandamus was filed, was held today in the Calhoun County Courthouse in St. Matthews, SC.  

The Betterments Statute, under South Carolina law, provides the means for a party making good faith improvements to property they believe they own, to be compensated for the value of those improvements, if a court makes a final determination that another party is the true owner.   Many of the parishes in the Diocese of South Carolina can trace their unbroken history back to the colonial era of the state. During that entire time, there has never been any question of their unencumbered title to property or legal identity.  All have proceeded throughout their history with the maintenance and improvement of their properties with these assumptions. 

The motion previously filed by TECSC asked for the dismissal of the case, primarily on the basis that it had not been filed in a timely fashion and that they were not actually taking ownership of the churches but merely exercising their trust interest in the property. The Diocese maintained that the court needed to decide which, if any, of the 29 parishes agreed (acceded) to the Dennis Canon before it could decide whether this case should proceed. As to the eight parishes that TEC and TECSC concede did not agree to the Dennis Canon, Judge Dickson asked Diocese counsel to submit proposed orders making those findings.

The five separate opinions that constitute the Supreme Court decision resulted in a fractured ruling whose interpretation is currently under consideration by Judge Dickson.  The effort to force a particular interpretation of that decision was the essential purpose of the recent Petition for Mandamus filed by TEC and TECSC which was denied by the Supreme Court on June 28, 2019.

Judge Dickson took the motion to dismiss the Betterments case under advisement. He also ordered the parties to mediate all the issues raised in the two state lawsuits referencing the relatively recent Supreme Court order which requires mandatory mediation in civil cases.