A District Court judge has ruled that the suit regarding the name, seal, and property of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina will be tried in a state court rather than at the federal level.
Judge C. Weston Houck of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division made the ruling Monday in favor of the breakaway South Carolina Diocese against The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
"ECSC argues that a federal court's exercise of jurisdiction in this case will not result in a substantial number of state trademark cases being removed to federal court because this case implicates a First Amendment issue that simply does not arise in the vast majority of cases presenting similar claims," said Houck.
"If this Court determined that a case may be removed based on federal question jurisdiction whenever a defendant attributed a federal constitutional issue not alleged or advanced in a well-pleaded complaint, federal question jurisdiction could potentially be expanded to all cases containing tacit First Amendment issues. Federal courts require strict construction against removal … Therefore, allowing ECSC to remove this case would seriously disrupt the federal-state balance."
With District Court Judge Houck's decision, the lawsuit will return to the South Carolina Circuit Court and Judge Diane S. Goodstein of Dorchester County.
The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis, spokesman for the Diocese of South Carolina, told The Christian Post that the diocese lawsuit should be decided in state court given what it was about.
"We believe all the issues here are questions of legal identity and property which are controlled by state law. Consequently, the most appropriate place to settle them is in state court. Apparently, U.S. District Judge Houck agreed," said Lewis.
"All we have asked of the court is a declaratory judgment; to clarify what we believe are our rights to our identity and property which we have held for more than 200 years."
In January, after voting overwhelmingly to leave The Episcopal Church, the Diocese of South Carolina filed suit against those loyal to TEC over the rightful usage of the diocesan name, seal and property.
For a time, both congregations who sought to stay with The Episcopal Church and those who sought to leave with Bishop Mark Lawrence used the diocesan name and marks.
However, a judge granted an injunction allowing Lawrence and the leadership who decided to leave the denomination usage of the name and marks of the South Carolina Diocese while the suit continued.
Those who sought to remain with The Episcopal Church took the name "The Episcopal Church in South Carolina" and earlier this year elected their own bishop, the Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg.
Holly Behre, ECSC communications director, provided The Christian Post with a press release that included a statement from S. Tisdale, Jr., chancellor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
"We are obviously disappointed with the result, but we are confident in our legal position going forward," said Tisdale.
The dispute over whether the suit over the name, seal, and property of the Diocese should be handled by a federal or state court is not the only legal issue being decided by Houck.
A separate lawsuit filed in March by Bishop vonRosenberg against Bishop Lawrence demands that the court recognize the former as the recognized controller of the name and seal of the diocese.