Vonrosenberg v. Lawrence, 15-2284

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Citation849 F.3d 163
Docket NumberNo. 15-2284,15-2284
Parties The Right Reverend Charles G. VONROSENBERG, individually and in his capacity as Provisional Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. The Right Reverend Mark J. LAWRENCE; John Does, 1–10, being fictitious defendants whose names presently are unknown to Plaintiff and will be added by amendment when ascertained, Defendants–Appellees.
Decision Date21 February 2017

849 F.3d 163

The Right Reverend Charles G. VONROSENBERG, individually and in his capacity as Provisional Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, Plaintiff–Appellant,
v.
The Right Reverend Mark J. LAWRENCE; John Does, 1–10, being fictitious defendants whose names presently are unknown to Plaintiff and will be added by amendment when ascertained, Defendants–Appellees.

No. 15-2284

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

Argued: December 9, 2016
Decided: February 21, 2017


ARGUED: Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr., HELLMAN YATES & TISDALE, Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellant. Henrietta U. Golding, MCNAIR LAW FIRM, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Jason S. Smith, HELLMAN YATES & TISDALE, Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellant. C. Alan Runyan, Andrew S. Platte, SPEIGHTS & RUNYAN, Beaufort, South Carolina; Charles H. Williams, WILLIAMS & WILLIAMS, Orangeburg, South Carolina; David Cox, BARNWELL WHALEY PATTERSON & HELMS, Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellee.

Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, MOTZ, Circuit Judge, and Richard D. BENNETT, United States District Judge for the District of Maryland, sitting by designation.

Vacated and remanded by published opinion. Judge Motz wrote the opinion, in which Chief Judge Gregory and Judge Bennett joined.

DIANA GRIBBON MOTZ, Circuit Judge:

This dispute between two clergymen—each claiming to be the Bishop of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina—comes to us a second time. Bishop Charles G. vonRosenberg initiated this action, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. He alleges that Bishop Mark J. Lawrence has violated the Lanham Act by falsely advertising himself to be the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. At Bishop Lawrence's request, the district court abstained in favor of related state court proceedings, applying Brillhart v. Excess Insurance Co. of America , 316 U.S. 491, 62 S.Ct. 1173, 86 L.Ed. 1620 (1942), and Wilton v. Seven Falls Co. , 515 U.S. 277, 115 S.Ct. 2137, 132 L.Ed.2d 214 (1995). On appeal, we vacated that order, concluding that Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States , 424 U.S. 800, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 47 L.Ed.2d 483 (1976), not Brillhart and Wilton , governs abstention decisions in actions where the plaintiff seeks both declaratory and nondeclaratory relief. See vonRosenberg v. Lawrence (vonRosenberg I ), 781 F.3d 731 (4th Cir. 2015). On remand, the district court has again abstained, staying the action pending the conclusion of the

849 F.3d 166

state proceedings. For the reasons that follow, we must again vacate and remand for further proceedings.

I.

As discussed in our earlier opinion, Bishop vonRosenberg alleges that The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States ("the Episcopal Church") removed Bishop Lawrence from his position as the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina and installed Bishop vonRosenberg in his place. Bishop vonRosenberg asserts that, despite Bishop Lawrence's removal, Bishop Lawrence continues to use the service marks, names, and symbols of the Diocese and continues to hold himself out as the Bishop of the Diocese. For his part, Bishop Lawrence maintains that he was not removed from office. He contends that the Diocese of South Carolina withdrew from the Episcopal Church and now operates independently of the national organization. Accordingly, Bishop Lawrence argues that, although he no longer serves as a Bishop of the Episcopal Church, he is still the Bishop of the Diocese and thus may represent himself as such.

We briefly sketch the course of the state and federal actions that led to the abstention orders in this case.

A.

On January 4, 2013, the Diocese of South Carolina and various churches and parishes loyal to Bishop Lawrence filed suit in South Carolina state court against the Episcopal Church. They argued that the Diocese had dissociated from the Episcopal Church and sought "resolution of their real and personal property rights." The property at issue included the Diocese's service marks, which the plaintiffs alleged the Episcopal Church had used in violation of South Carolina law.

The Episcopal Church filed an answer and counterclaims, including claims of trademark infringement and dilution under the Lanham Act. It also sought to add Bishop Lawrence and others as individual counterclaim defendants. In September 2013, the state court denied the request to add the proposed additional parties, and it repeatedly denied similar requests throughout the litigation. Accordingly, neither Bishop Lawrence nor Bishop vonRosenberg is a party to the state action. And no Lanham Act false advertising claim against Bishop Lawrence is before the state court.

On February 3, 2015, after more than a year of discovery and a fourteen-day bench trial, the state court issued a final order in favor of the Diocese. It held that the Diocese had validly dissociated from the Episcopal Church and therefore owned the property at issue in the litigation, including the service marks. The state court permanently enjoined the Episcopal Church and its agents from using any of the Diocese's marks. The Episcopal Church appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court. That court heard oral argument on September 23, 2015, but has issued no opinion to date.

B.

On March 5, 2013, two months after the Diocese filed suit in state court, Bishop vonRosenberg filed this federal action. In it, Bishop vonRosenberg alleges that Bishop Lawrence violated the Lanham Act by engaging in false advertising. Specifically, Bishop vonRosenberg alleges that Bishop Lawrence's continued assertions that he remains the Bishop of the Diocese creates confusion as to who is the true Bishop. Bishop vonRosenberg asserts that this impairs his ability to perform his

849 F.3d 167

ecclesiastical duties and to communicate effectively on behalf of the Diocese.1

In response, Bishop Lawrence asked the federal district court to abstain in favor of the state proceeding. In August 2013—before the state court...

To continue reading

Request your trial
58 cases
  • Brown-Thomas v. Hynie
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • August 21, 2019
    ...exercising jurisdiction over a duplicative federal action for purposes of ‘wise judicial administration.’ " VonRosenberg v. Lawrence , 849 F.3d 163, 197 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. , 424 U.S. 800 at 818, 96 S.Ct. 1236 ). "[T]his form of abstention ‘is an......
  • Garrett v. Clarke
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • August 4, 2021
    ...the same issues in different forums." Id. The Fourth Circuit has strictly construed this requirement. vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, 849 F.3d 163, 168 (4th Cir. 2017). It is not enough that the parties are "aligned in interest," id., or that the actions "raise similar or overlapping issues," id.......
  • Middleton v. Andino
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • September 18, 2020
    ...first determine the threshold issue of whether the present action is parallel to the state proceeding. Id. ; vonRosenberg v. Lawrence , 849 F.3d 163, 168 (4th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted). 21. Generally, "[s]uits are parallel if substantially the same parties litigate substantially the sa......
  • Blank River Servs., Inc. v. Towline River Serv., Inc., 2:19-cv-00418
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • August 21, 2019
    ...are parallel is whether the state litigation will dispose of all of the issues in the federal case. See, e.g. , vonRosenberg v. Lawrence , 849 F.3d 163, 168 (4th Cir. 2017) ; Spectra Commn's Grp., LLC v. City of Cameron , 806 F.3d 1113, 1121 (8th Cir. 2015) ; AAR Int'l, Inc. v. Nimelias Ent......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT