Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of S.C. v. Episcopal Church, Appellate Case No. 2015-000622

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtACTING JUSTICE PLEICONES
Citation421 S.C. 211,806 S.E.2d 82
Parties The PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN THE DIOCESE OF SOUTH CAROLINA; The Trustees of The Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina, a South Carolina Corporate Body ; All Saints Protestant Episcopal Church, Inc.; Christ St. Paul's Episcopal Church; Christ the King, Waccamaw ; Church of The Cross, Inc. and Church of the Cross Declaration of Trust; Church of The Holy Comforter; Church of the Redeemer; Holy Trinity Episcopal Church; Saint Luke's Church, Hilton Head; St. Matthews Church; St. Andrews Church-Mt. Pleasant Land Trust; St. Bartholomews Episcopal Church; St. David's Church; St. James' Church, James Island, S.C. ; St. John's Episcopal Church of Florence, S.C.; St. Matthias Episcopal Church, Inc.; St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Bennettsville, Inc.; St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Conway; The Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, Radcliffeboro; The Church of Our Saviour of the Diocese of South Carolina; The Church of the Epiphany (Episcopal); The Church of the Good Shepherd, Charleston, SC; The Church of The Holy Cross; The Church of The Resurrection, Surfside; The Protestant Episcopal Church of The Parish of Saint Philip, in Charleston, in the State of South Carolina; The Protestant Episcopal Church, The Parish of Saint Michael, in Charleston, in the State of South Carolina and St. Michael's Church Declaration of Trust; The Vestry and Church Wardens of St. Jude's Church of Walterboro; The Vestry and Church Wardens of The Episcopal Church of The Parish of Prince George Winyah; The Vestry and Church Wardens of The Church of The Parish of St. Helena and The Parish Church of St. Helena Trust; The Vestry and Church Wardens of The Parish of St. Matthew; The Vestry and Wardens of St. Paul's Church, Summerville; Trinity Church of Myrtle Beach; Trinity Episcopal Church; Trinity Episcopal Church, Pinopolis; Vestry and Church Wardens of the Episcopal Church of The Parish of Christ Church; Vestry and Church Wardens of The Episcopal Church of the Parish of St. John's, Charleston County, The Vestries and Churchwardens of The Parish of St. Andrews, Respondents. v. The EPISCOPAL CHURCH (a/k/a The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America) and The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, Appellants.
Decision Date02 August 2017
Docket NumberAppellate Case No. 2015-000622,Opinion No. 27731

421 S.C. 211
806 S.E.2d 82

The PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN THE DIOCESE OF SOUTH CAROLINA; The Trustees of The Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina, a South Carolina Corporate Body ; All Saints Protestant Episcopal Church, Inc.; Christ St. Paul's Episcopal Church; Christ the King, Waccamaw ; Church of The Cross, Inc. and Church of the Cross Declaration of Trust; Church of The Holy Comforter; Church of the Redeemer; Holy Trinity Episcopal Church; Saint Luke's Church, Hilton Head; St. Matthews Church; St. Andrews Church-Mt. Pleasant Land Trust; St. Bartholomews Episcopal Church; St. David's Church; St. James' Church, James Island, S.C. ; St. John's Episcopal Church of Florence, S.C.; St. Matthias Episcopal Church, Inc.; St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Bennettsville, Inc.; St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Conway; The Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, Radcliffeboro; The Church of Our Saviour of the Diocese of South Carolina; The Church of the Epiphany (Episcopal); The Church of the Good Shepherd, Charleston, SC; The Church of The Holy Cross; The Church of The Resurrection, Surfside; The Protestant Episcopal Church of The Parish of Saint Philip, in Charleston, in the State of South Carolina; The Protestant Episcopal Church, The Parish of Saint Michael, in Charleston, in the State of South Carolina and St. Michael's Church Declaration of Trust; The Vestry and Church Wardens of St. Jude's Church of Walterboro; The Vestry and Church Wardens of The Episcopal Church of The Parish of Prince George Winyah; The Vestry and Church Wardens of The Church of The Parish of St. Helena and The Parish Church of St. Helena Trust; The Vestry and Church Wardens of The Parish of St. Matthew; The Vestry and Wardens of St. Paul's Church, Summerville; Trinity Church of Myrtle Beach; Trinity Episcopal Church; Trinity Episcopal Church, Pinopolis; Vestry and Church Wardens of the Episcopal Church of The Parish of Christ Church; Vestry and Church Wardens of The Episcopal Church of the Parish of St. John's, Charleston County, The Vestries and Churchwardens of The Parish of St. Andrews, Respondents.
v.
The EPISCOPAL CHURCH (a/k/a The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America) and The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, Appellants.

Appellate Case No. 2015-000622
Opinion No. 27731

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard September 23, 2015
Filed August 2, 2017
Rehearing Denied November 17, 2017


Allan R. Holmes, Sr. and Timothy O. Lewis, both of Gibbs & Holmes, of Charleston, David Booth Beers and Mary E. Kostel, both of Goodwin Procter, LLP, of Washington, DC, Blake A. Hewitt and John S. Nichols, both of Bluestein Nichols Thompson & Delgado, of Columbia, Thomas S. Tisdale and Jason S. Smith, both of Hellman Yates & Tisdale, of Charleston and R. Walker Humphrey, II, of Waters & Kraus, of Dallas, Texas, for Appellants.

C. Alan Runyan and Andrew S. Platte, both of Speights & Runyan, of Beaufort, Henrietta U. Golding and Amanda Bailey, both of McNair Law Firm, of Myrtle Beach, C. Mitchell Brown, of Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, of Columbia, Charles H. Williams, of Williams & Williams, of Orangeburg, David Cox, of Barnwell Whaley Patterson & Helms, of Charleston, Thomas C. Davis, of Harvey & Battey, of Beaufort, Harry Easterling, Jr., of Bennettsville, G. Mark Phillips, of Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, of Charleston, W. Foster Gaillard and Henry Grimball, both of Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, of Charleston, Keith McCarty, of McCarty Law Firm, of Charleston, William A. Scott, of Pedersen & Scott, of Charleston, Mark Evans, of Charleston, David B. Marvel and David L. DeVane, both of Prenner Marvel, of Charleston, John Furman Wall, III, of Mt. Pleasant, Allan P. Sloan, III and Joseph C. Wilson, IV, both of Pierce, Herns, Sloan & Wilson, of Charleston, C. Pierce Campbell, of Turner, Padget, Graham & Laney, of Florence, Robert R. Horger, of Horger, Barnwell & Reid, of Orangeburg, Saunders M. Bridges, of Aiken Bridges Elliott Tyler & Saleeby, of Florence, Lawrence B. Orr, of Orr Elmore & Ervin, of Florence, Francis M. Mack, of St. Matthews, Robert S. Shelton, of The Bellamy Law Firm, of Myrtle Beach, William A. Bryan, of Bryan & Haar, of Surfside Beach, Harry Oxner, of Oxner & Stacy, of Georgetown, Susan MacDonald and Jim Lehman, both of Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, of Myrtle Beach, Brandt Shelbourne, of Shelbourne Law Firm, of Summerville, Stephen S. McKenzie, of Coffey, Chandler & Kent, of Manning, John B. Williams, of Williams & Hulst, of Moncks Corner, George J. Kefalos and Oana D. Johnson, both of George J. Kefalos, P.A., of Charleston, Stephen Spitz, of Charleston and Thornwell F. Sowell, III

806 S.E.2d 84

and Bess J. Durant, both of Sowell Gray Stepp & Lafitte, LLC, of Columbia, for Respondents.

ACTING JUSTICE PLEICONES :

421 S.C. 214

This is an appeal from a circuit court order holding that the Appellants have no legal or equitable interests in certain real and personal property located in South Carolina, and enjoining the Appellants from utilizing certain disputed service marks and names. In this lead opinion I explain why I would reverse the entire order.

421 S.C. 215

The Respondents are the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina (Disassociated Diocese); the Trustees of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina (Trustees); and thirty-six individual parishes that have aligned themselves with the Disassociated Diocese (Parishes). The Appellants are The Episcopal Church a/k/a The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (TEC) and The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the diocese that remains affiliated with the TEC (Associated Diocese).

After a lengthy bench trial, and based upon the application of "neutral principles of law," the circuit court found in favor of the Respondents on both the property and the service mark causes of action. Since the main purposes of this suit were requests for declaratory judgments and injunctive relief, I find that it sounds in equity.1 Doe v. S.C. Med. Mal. Liab. Joint Underwriting Ass'n, 347 S.C. 642, 557 S.E.2d 670 (2001). The Court is therefore free to take its own view of the facts. Id.

As noted above, much of the trial judge's decision making in this case was controlled by her interpretation of the "neutral principles of law" approach to deciding ecclesiastical disputes. See Pearson v. Church of God, 325 S.C. 45, 478 S.E.2d 849 (1996) (adopting this approach). Specifically, she was guided by her reading of this Court's decision in All Saints Parish Waccamaw v. The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, 385 S.C. 428, 685 S.E.2d 163 (2009)

421 S.C. 216

All Saints ). In the trial judge's view, the admissibility of evidence and the resolution of the property disputes at issue here were properly adjudicated solely on the basis of state corporate, property, and trust law, and she was required to ignore the ecclesiastical setting in which these disputes arose. This error of law led, in turn, to a distorted view of the issues in this case.

Before discussing the merits of the appeal, I briefly review a simplified history of TEC, and the church's history in South Carolina. I next address, and would reverse, the circuit court's finding that TEC is a congregational rather than a hierarchical church. I then address misperceptions of the "neutral principles of law" approach resulting in large part from the trial court's reading of All Saints, which I would now overrule in part.2 I conclude that the present property and church governance disputes are not appropriate for resolution in the civil courts and would reverse the order to the extent it purports to resolve these questions. Finally, I find the trial court erred in holding that the

806 S.E.2d 85

Respondents' state-registered trademarks prevail over TEC's federally-protected trademarks, and therefore would also reverse that portion of the order.

HISTORY

The Episcopal Church has a long history in South Carolina. See All Saints, supra. In 1789, four years after its formation, the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina (South Carolina Diocese) and six other dioceses came together to form the national church (TEC). The South Carolina Diocese was voluntarily associated with TEC since that date, save for a five-year hiatus surrounding the Civil War. In 1841, Article 1 was added to the South Carolina Diocese's Constitution. This article, titled, "Of acceding to the constitutions and canons of the general convention," provided "The [South Carolina Diocese]

421 S.C. 217

accedes to, recognizes and adopts the general constitution and canons of [TEC] and acknowledges their authority accordingly." Similar language in which the Diocese acceded to TEC remained in the Diocese's governing documents until 2010. Further, for more than 200 years, a parish had to agree to conform to TEC's Constitution and Canons as well as those of the Diocese in order to become and remain a member of the South Carolina Diocese. Finally, the Trustee Corporation, which purports to be represented in this suit by the respondent Trustees, was chartered as a...

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11 practice notes
  • Vonrosenberg v. Lawrence, Civil Action No. 2:13-587-RMG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 19 September 2019
    ...Parishes held real and personal property in trust for TEC. Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of S.C. v. Episcopal Church , 421 S.C. 211, 265, 806 S.E.2d 82, 111 (2017), reh'g denied (Nov. 17, 2017), cert. denied sub nom. Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of S.C. v. The Epi......
  • Episcopal Church v. Salazar, NO. 02-15-00220-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • 5 April 2018
    ...separately—touching on some of the issues before us. See Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of S.C. v. The Episcopal Church , 421 S.C. 211, 806 S.E.2d 82, 84, 93 (2017), cert. de n ie d , No. 17-1136, 2018 WL 838170 (Feb. 9, 2018). As recounted by one of the justices, a majority of ......
  • Episcopal Church in S.C. v. Church Ins. Co. of Vt., No. 20-1143
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • 7 May 2021
    ...circuit court on remittitur, and is now pending before the Supreme Court again. See Protestant Episcopal Church v. Episcopal Church , 421 S.C. 211, 806 S.E.2d 82 (2017), reh'g denied (Nov. 17, 2017), cert. denied (June 11, 2018), decision on remittitur (Ct. Common Pleas, Dorchester Cnty., J......
  • Vonrosenberg v. Lawrence, Civil Action No. 2:13-587-RMG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 18 December 2019
    ...Parishes held real and personal property in trust for TEC. Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of S.C. v. Episcopal Church , 421 S.C. 211, 265, 806 S.E.2d 82, 111 (2017). Given the long history of this case and the multiple Parties, it is important at the outset to identify the princ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
11 cases
  • Vonrosenberg v. Lawrence, Civil Action No. 2:13-587-RMG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 19 September 2019
    ...Parishes held real and personal property in trust for TEC. Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of S.C. v. Episcopal Church , 421 S.C. 211, 265, 806 S.E.2d 82, 111 (2017), reh'g denied (Nov. 17, 2017), cert. denied sub nom. Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of S.C. v. The Epi......
  • Episcopal Church v. Salazar, NO. 02-15-00220-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • 5 April 2018
    ...separately—touching on some of the issues before us. See Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of S.C. v. The Episcopal Church , 421 S.C. 211, 806 S.E.2d 82, 84, 93 (2017), cert. de n ie d , No. 17-1136, 2018 WL 838170 (Feb. 9, 2018). As recounted by one of the justices, a majority of ......
  • Episcopal Church in S.C. v. Church Ins. Co. of Vt., No. 20-1143
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • 7 May 2021
    ...circuit court on remittitur, and is now pending before the Supreme Court again. See Protestant Episcopal Church v. Episcopal Church , 421 S.C. 211, 806 S.E.2d 82 (2017), reh'g denied (Nov. 17, 2017), cert. denied (June 11, 2018), decision on remittitur (Ct. Common Pleas, Dorchester Cnty., J......
  • Vonrosenberg v. Lawrence, Civil Action No. 2:13-587-RMG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 18 December 2019
    ...Parishes held real and personal property in trust for TEC. Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of S.C. v. Episcopal Church , 421 S.C. 211, 265, 806 S.E.2d 82, 111 (2017). Given the long history of this case and the multiple Parties, it is important at the outset to identify the princ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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