TECSC press release: Federal Judge Rules in Favor of TECSC and TEC in Trademark Infringement and False Advertising Case

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U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel ruled in favor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina and The Episcopal Church today on the trademark infringement and false advertising lawsuit filed in 2013. Saying that “The time has come for this dispute to be resolved,” Judge Gergel granted the plaintiff’s (the Bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC)) motion for summary judgement, and declared that the group that disassociated from The Episcopal Church (TEC) in 2012 (and all affiliated churches) can no longer use the name “Diocese of South Carolina” nor use the “diocesan seal” or “Episcopal shield.”

The federal case, known as vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, was filed in March 2013, a few months after Mark Lawrence and a breakaway group announced they were leaving The Episcopal Church. The suit involves a claim of false advertising under the federal Lanham Act. At that time, Bishop Charles vonRosenberg was the only bishop recognized by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. According to the lawsuit, by continuing to represent himself as bishop of the diocese, Mark Lawrence is committing false advertising. 

In his 73-page opinion, Judge Gergel summarized that “the Defendants have every right to disassociate from the TEC and pursue their doctrine and community as they see fit, yet they may not leave with the Plaintiffs’ goodwill and marks generated over the course of over two centuries.”

Judge Gergel continued: “However, on the facts presented here, the Court finds it undisputed that the Defendants infringed on TEC and TECSC’s marks, diluted TEC’s marks and engaged in false advertising regarding their affiliation with TECSC and their identity.”

The lawsuit initially was filed in 2013 by the Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, who was then Bishop of TECSC. His successor, The Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. Adams III, was later added as a plaintiff. The Episcopal Church was allowed to join as a plaintiff in 2017, and TECSC was added in 2018.

Bishop Adams was thankful for today’s decision. “We are grateful to the court for their thorough attention to this case and for bringing clarity to our identity in recognition of our long history as the presence of The Episcopal Church in the eastern half of South Carolina,” said Bishop Adams. “While we are thankful, we know that this decision may be difficult for those from the disassociated diocese, and our hope remains that we can all find a path to true reconciliation and restoration of our diocese.” 

​The federal case is key to resolving trademark issues that were not addressed by the state courts in the lawsuit that the breakaway group, calling itself the “Diocese of South Carolina,” filed against The Episcopal Church and its local diocese in 2013. That case went to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled August 2, 2017 in favor of The Episcopal Church and its diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.