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Federal Judge Rules in Favor of TEC in Trademark Case

Federal Judge Rules in Favor of TEC in Trademark Case
Ruling does not touch on property ownership

Photo courtesy of The Living Church

By David W. Virtue, DD
September 20, 2019

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA -- A US District Court Judge, Richard M. Gergel issued an Order and Opinion in favor of The Episcopal Church and its local diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, in the trademark case Von Rosenberg v. Lawrence. In the 73-page decision, Judge Gergel issued an injunction against our diocese, which left The Episcopal Church in 2012.

Saying that "The time has come for this dispute to be resolved," Judge Gergel granted the plaintiff's (the Bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina(TECSC)) motion for summary judgement, and declared that the group that disassociated from The Episcopal Church (TEC) in 2012 (and all affiliated churches) can no longer use the name "Diocese of South Carolina" nor use the "diocesan seal" or "Episcopal shield."

According to that injunction, the Anglican diocese is prevented from using the marks, including the names and seal of the diocese. 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.

The diocese is now affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). It 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 his 73-page opinion, Judge Gergel summarized that "the Defendants have every right to disassociate from the TEC and pursue their doctrine and community as they see fit, yet they may not leave with the Plaintiffs' goodwill and marks generated over the course of over two centuries."

He continued: "However, on the facts presented here, the Court finds it undisputed that the Defendants infringed on TEC and TECSC's marks, diluted TEC's marks and engaged in false advertising regarding their affiliation with TECSC and their identity."

The lawsuit initially was filed in 2013 by the Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, who was then Bishop of TECSC. His successor, The Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. Adams III, was later added as a plaintiff. The Episcopal Church was allowed to join as a plaintiff in 2017, and TECSC was added in 2018.

The ruling did not touch on property ownership.

In the state case regarding ownership of property, on August 28th, Judge Edgar Dickson issued an order adverse to TEC and TECinSC, 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 26. That conference, which had been scheduled for earlier this month, had been postponed due to Hurricane Dorian.


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