CHARLESTON, S.C. — U.S. District Court Judge Weston C. Houck on Friday dismissed a federal trademark lawsuit filed by Episcopal Church Bishop Charles vonRosenberg against Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina Mark Lawrence.
The decision acknowledges the authority of the Circuit Court of South Carolina to decide the rightful owner of the names, symbols and property of the Diocese of South Carolina.
“The sum of all disputes and conflicts arising in the wake of the Diocese’s estrangement from (the Episcopal Church) are more appropriately before, and will more comprehensively be resolved, in South Carolina state court,” stated Houck in the order dismissing vonRosenberg’s lawsuit and denying his motion for an injunction to prohibit Lawrence from acting as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.
VonRosenberg v. Lawrence was filed in March, asking the court to find that only vonRosenberg, as The Episcopal Church’s recognized bishop, should control the name and marks of the Diocese. In a separate motion, vonRosenberg also asked the federal court to grant a preliminary injunction to stop Lawrence from using the name and marks of the Diocese and from representing that his activities are associated with the Diocese. Houck's order denied that motion. A separate case in South Carolina Circuit Court before Judge Diane S. Goodstein is currently proceeding with written discovery. No trial date is expected to be set before early 2014.
In January, the Diocese and several of its parishes filed a lawsuit asking the state court to issue a declaratory judgment against The Episcopal Church (TEC) to protect the Diocese’s real, personal and intellectual property and that of its parishes.
The Diocese filed the lawsuit after it dissociated from the Episcopal Church due to theological differences. Following the Diocese’s decision, 49 churches representing 80 percent of the Diocese’s 30,000 members confirmed their desire to remain with the Diocese of South Carolina, disassociating from The Episcopal Church.
Soon after the Diocese filed its suit, a South Carolina Circuit judge issued a temporary injunction against TEC and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (ECSS), the remnant group created following the Diocese’s disassociation from TEC.
The injunction stated that the remnant group may not claim to be the Diocese of South Carolina or use any of its registered names, marks or seal. The lawyers for TEC and ECSS consented to that injunction.
"While we are disappointed at the recent legal developments, we recognized that our journey involves many, many more steps than only this one," vonRosenberg said. "We are involved for the long haul. And, as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, our mission most definitely will not be defined by court decisions and legal processes but, rather, by the call and direction of our Lord."
The group continues to call itself “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina,” and recognizes Lawrence as its bishop.
“We are extremely gratified that Judge Houck agrees the entire issue should be decided by a South Carolina state court using South Carolina law under which the Diocese and its parishes are incorporated,” said Jim Lewis, canon to Lawrence.