FEDERAL COURT ACTS
Judge C. Weston Houck, of the U.S. District Court, in Charleston, issued a ruling yesterday entitled "Order" (www.diosc.com/sys/images/documents/tec/fed_court_grants_lawrence_motion_9_21_15.pdf ). In it he granted Mark Lawrence's motion to stay the proceeding in the federal court until the resolution of the appeal pending in the South Carolina Supreme Court. This means the case in the U.S. District Court will be suspended until the state supreme court issues its ruling. If the state supreme court follows its typical six-month lapse between hearing and written decree, one can expect a judgment in March of 2016. However, the state court can issue a decision whenever it chooses.
In the federal case, Bishop vonRosenberg sued Bishop Lawrence charging infringement of the Lanham Act that covers trademark rights. In short, vonR was asking the federal court to recognize him as the legal bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Earlier this year, the U.S. Appeals Court had ordered Houck to reconsider the case following the Colorado Principle that requires a federal court to adjudicate a case involving federal law with very few exceptions. In yesterday's Order, Houck ruled that the Colorado Principle allowed him to abstain in this case because the previous action in state court was parallel: "the underlying issues in the state court action is the Diocese's identity, ownership, and control. This same issue is at the heart of Bishop vonRosenberg's claims in the federal court action."(p. 20) He determined that this case met the "exceptional circumstances" allowed under the Colorado Principle.
It is important to note that Houck placed a stay on the case; he did not dismiss the case. In the end he said: "If the South Carolina Supreme Court holds that the Diocese legally withdrew from TEC, then Bishop vonRosenberg will have no grounds to claim that he, not Bishop Lawrence, is the rightful Bishop of the Diocese and possessor of its marks." (p. 21) He went on, "On the other hand, if the South Carolina Supreme Court determines that the Diocese did not validly withdraw from TEC, then Bishop vonRosenberg may claim that Bishop Lawrence is unlawfully holding himself out as the true Bishop and infringing on the Diocese's marks." (p. 21) In other words, Houck will defer to the state supreme court to decide the issues in the overall dispute between the independent diocese and the Episcopal Church and its diocese.
The Rev. Jim Lewis has just issued a press release not surprisingly touting Houck's ruling. Unfortunately he continued his earlier assertion of God's favor on DSC and even called the other side the "enemy": "Pray for the protection of all involved in this case from the assault of the enemy." Yesterday I made a posting on this blog about the present situation being the lowest point in the 230 year history of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. One side demonizing the other as the "enemy" is just further evidence of my claim. I stand by my view that this is the worst moment in the long history of a once great diocese.