A federal judge Friday dismissed a trademark lawsuit filed by Bishop Charles vonRosenberg of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina against Bishop Mark Lawrence, who left the church last year.
VonRosenberg and his lawyers had argued in the federal suit that Lawrence had no right to retain use of the diocese name and marks since there could be only one bishop overseeing local Episcopalians and since Lawrence was no longer part of The Episcopal Church.
In a separate suit filed in the circuit court of South Carolina, Lawrence has asked for protection of his corporate name, “The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina,” and seal.
U.S. District Judge Weston C. Houck’s decision effectively combines the two suits into one, acknowledging that authority rests with the state circuit court.
“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,” Houck said, denying vonRosenberg’s motion for an injunction.
“While we are disappointed at recent legal developments, we recognize that our journey involves many, many more steps than only this one,” vonRosenberg said in a statement. 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 decision signifies a victory for the independent 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 Jim Lewis, Canon to Bishop Lawrence. “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.”
Attorneys for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina are analyzing the ruling and a decision about whether to appeal is expected within a few days, spokeswoman Holly Behre said.
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