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SOUTH CAROLINA: Oral arguments set in federal court appeal

SOUTH CAROLINA: Oral arguments set in federal court appeal

January 27, 2015

Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard on Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va. in vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, seeking to have the case sent back to U.S. District Court in Charleston to be decided on its merits.

Thomas S. Tisdale Jr., Chancellor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, will present Bishop Charles vonRosenberg's case before a three-judge panel at the Lewis F. Powell Jr. Courthouse in Richmond. Twenty minutes are allotted to each side for oral arguments and rebuttals. No immediate ruling is expected.

The appeal focuses on the issue of false advertising under the federal Lanham Act. Bishop vonRosenberg is the only bishop recognized by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. Mark Lawrence, by continuing to represent himself as bishop of the diocese, is committing false advertising, according to a brief filed with the appeals court in April.

The appeal asks the judges to rule that the District Court in Charleston erred in abstaining from jurisdiction on the false-advertising claim, and send the case back to the lower court to be decided on its merits. It also asks the appeals court to award a preliminary injunction and stop Bishop Lawrence from representing himself as bishop of the diocese.

In 2012, Bishop Lawrence and other diocesan officials announced they had "withdrawn" from The Episcopal Church. The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church accepted his renunciation, and he was removed from the ordained ministry of the church. The Presiding Bishop then called a special Diocesan Convention in January 2013. There, delegates elected Bishop vonRosenberg, who is recognized by The Episcopal Church as the one and only rightful bishop of the local diocese.

"Despite his renunciation and removal from office, Bishop Lawrence continues to hold himself out as the Bishop of the Diocese, and continues to make other false representations of fact..." the brief says.

Bishop Lawrence's actions interfere with Bishop vonRosenberg's right to communicate with people and carry out his duties as the sole bishop of the diocese, creating confusion and causing irreparable damage, according to the appeal.

The trademark issues involved in vonRosenberg v. Lawrence are not being raised in the appeal. When U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck refused to hear the case, he dismissed the trademark issues without prejudice, noting that similar issues are part of a state lawsuit filed by the breakaway group. Judge Houck's order left open the possibility that those issues still could be brought to federal court if the state courts do not properly resolve them.

The state court case went to trial in Dorchester County in July 2014 and is awaiting a decision from Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein.


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