South Carolina Supreme Court agrees to hear appeal

Posted Apr 16, 2015

[The Episcopal Church in South Carolina] The South Carolina Supreme Court April 15 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 as the date for oral arguments in the case, saying that no extensions would be granted. The Episcopal Church in South Carolina 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.

The diocese now has 30 days in which to file briefs in the appeal, according to Thomas S. Tisdale Jr., chancellor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

“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,” Tisdale said.

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, 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.”

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina 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 The Episcopal Church in South Carolina 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, Goodstein ruled in favor of the breakaway group. The Episcopal Church in South Carolina and The Episcopal Church then filed motion for reconsideration which the judge rejected 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 Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. 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,  alleging that 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 Lawrence.