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Judge Rules “Diocese of South Carolina” Belongs to TEC

By Kirk Petersen

Update: A message posted on the ACNA website reads in part:

“Lawyers for the diocese are reviewing the ruling and will be discussing next steps with Bishop Mark Lawrence and the Standing Committee. The diocese will be working in the coming days to come into compliance with this order.

In the state case regarding ownership of property, on August 28th, Judge Edgar Dickson issued an order adverse to TEC and TECSC, rejecting their request to dismiss the diocese’s right to recover financial loss under the Betterments Statute. Issues in this case will be discussed at a mediation conference on September 26th. That conference, which had been scheduled for earlier this month had been postponed due to Hurricane Dorian.

A federal judge ruled September 19 that the name “Diocese of South Carolina” belongs to the diocese affiliated with The Episcopal Church (TEC), and that a breakaway diocese using that name has engaged in “trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and false advertising.”

The diocese affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) has been calling itself the Diocese of South Carolina on the strength of a state court trademark ruling soon after the 2012 schism, when Bishop Mark Lawrence and three dozen parishes left TEC.

The TEC diocese has been calling itself The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC)

In a 73-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel said the state court’s trademark ruling had  been overturned by decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court, despite the ACNA diocese’s claim to the contrary.

Gergel enjoined the ACNA diocese from continuing to use Diocese of South Carolina and related names, and from using the historic diocesan seal.

TECSC Bishop Gladstone B. “Skip” Adams III said on the diocesan website: “While we are thankful, we know that this decision may be difficult for those from the disassociated diocese, and our hope remains that we can all find a path to true reconciliation and restoration of our diocese.”

Representatives of the ACNA diocese could not be reached for comment.

The state Supreme Court ruling in August 2017 was a tangled mess of five opinions by the five justices, leading to two 3-2 decisions for different parts of the case, with different majorities. The justices held that the ACNA diocese must turn over the property occupied by 29 parishes to the TEC diocese, and deferred to the federal court case for the trademark matter.

No property has yet changed hands, and the ACNA parishes have claimed under the state “betterments” statute that they must be reimbursed for any improvements that have been made to the properties — some of which date to colonial times. In late August the trial judge declined to dismiss the betterments claim.


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