Judge Dismisses Suit by Episcopal Church Against Breakaway SC Diocese Over Bishop Trademark

A U.S. District Judge in South Carolina has dismissed a trademark lawsuit leveled against a diocese that broke away from The Episcopal Church over theological differences.

Judge C. Weston Houck of Charleston decided last Thursday that The Episcopal Church in South Carolina's suit claiming rightful ownership of the title of bishop was to be "denied without prejudice."

The suit, filed by Rev. Charles vonRosenberg against Rev. Mark Lawrence, was over which of the two men could rightfully use the title of bishop of the South Carolina Diocese.

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While Houck said vonRosenberg held legal standing to sue, the judge wrote that the lawsuit conflicted with a nearly identical case filed earlier over the rightful control of the diocese.

"The state court action and this action involve overlapping, thus, presenting a clear entanglement threat," wrote Houck.

"…a decision by this Court to grant Bishop vonRosenberg's desired injunctive relief concerning the use of the Diocese's service marks will be in direct contravention of a temporary injunction already issued by the state court."

Jan Pringle, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Diocese, provided The Christian Post with a statement from Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary for the diocese.

"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 Lewis.

"We are only sorry that TEC's legal action has delayed resolution of this matter and served as a distraction from our real mission of ministering to the needs of the faithful."

Last year, the leadership of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina voted to leave The Episcopal Church over theological differences and the national leadership's treatment of Rev. Lawrence.

In January, a legal battle would ensue over who rightfully owned the property, name, and seal of the regional body.

Those who sought to remain with The Episcopal Church elected the formerly retired Rev. vonRosenberg as their bishop.

Due to an injunction, those loyal to The Episcopal Church had to halt their usage of the diocesan name, renaming themselves The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

In March, vonRosenberg filed a lawsuit against Lawrence over the latter's usage of the title of bishop, arguing that such usage violated trademark laws.

Later that month, Lawrence filed a motion to dismiss vonRosenberg's lawsuit, arguing that a pending state court suit over the property and name of the diocese took precedence. Arguments regarding the motion to dismiss were heard in August.

Holly Behre, communications director for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, provided The Christian Post with a statement from vonRosenberg regarding the decision.

"While we are disappointed at the recent legal developments, we recognized that our journey involves many, many more steps than only this one," said vonRosenberg.

"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."

According to Pringle, arguments in the main suit over the name, marks, and property of the South Carolina Diocese will be before Judge Diane S. Goodstein as early as next spring.

"At a status conference for the case, held on July 11th, Judge Goodstein approved a calendar and process for completing written discovery for the case this October and oral depositions by next February," said Pringle.

"That schedule should make it possible for trial proceedings to begin sometime next Spring."

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