CHARLESTON, SC — U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck has been asked to reconsider his dismissal of a federal lawsuit arising from the Episcopal schism in eastern South Carolina.
Houck last month dismissed the action brought by Bishop Charles vonRosenberg and ruled that the legal issues should be settled in state court. The bishop represents parishes remaining with the national Episcopal Church following last year's schism.
vonRosenberg had asked the court to block Bishop Mark Lawrence, heading parishes that left, from using the name and symbols of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
Lawrence and many parishes in the conservative diocese separated from the more liberal national church. Those parishes then sued in state court to protect use of the diocesan name and a half billion dollars in property.
In court documents filed Monday, vonRosenberg asks Houck to reconsider his decision dismissing the federal case.
The filing argues Houck made two fundamental errors - applying the wrong legal precedent to the case and finding that vonRosenberg's federal complaint parallels the state court action.
“In the interests of efficiency and judicial economy, Bishop vonRosenberg presents these errors for the court's reconsideration prior to re-filing this action or appealing to the Fourth Circuit,” the documents said.
The filing notes, as attorneys had argued before Houck earlier, that vonRosenberg is not a named party in the state lawsuit so his federal complaint should be allowed to go forward. The federal suit also alleges that the use of the diocesan symbols by the parishes that left the national church violates federal trademark law.
Houck had ruled that “though Bishop vonRosenberg is not a named party in the state action, the right he possesses with regard to control of the diocese's property and his office are already at stake in the state action.”
He also ruled that the state of South Carolina has a strong interest in resolving the matter because the disputed symbols are registered with the Secretary of State. He added that hearing the case in state court is more efficient and that involving the federal courts would “constitute unnecessary entanglement” of issues.