(Emphasis added.) It is customary in courts of law to allow a defendant an opportunity to respond to the complaint before deciding the case "on the merits." (Indeed, that is what is meant by the phrase "due process of law", guaranteed to all litigants by both the federal and State Constitutions.)B. Resolving the Dispute Over the Church Property
Both lower courts also decided the merits of the dispute over ownership of the local church — the trial court in favor of the local church and the Court of Appeal in favor of the general church. We will also decide this question, which the parties as well as various amici curiae have fully briefed.
There really can be no "merits" until both sides have had a chance to offer their evidence, and that has not yet occurred in The Episcopal Church Cases. The trial court dismissed the complaints filed both by the Diocese of Los Angeles (as being subject to a SLAPP motion) and by the Episcopal Church (USA), for failure to plead a sufficient claim for relief. The appellate court reversed those dismissals, thus reinstating the complaints, and the Supreme Court affirmed that reversal, although for different reasons. So now the case should go back to the Orange County Superior Court to allow the parish to file its answers to the complaints.
Then the Diocese and ECUSA will probably file motions for summary judgment, using the law as decided by the Supreme Court. There still may be factual issues, however, to resolve in applying that law. So the case is far from over yet.
The first step, nevertheless, is to get the Supreme Court to acknowledge that it did not "decide the case on the merits." (All it really did was establish some of the law that will govern the trial and decision of the case, as far as "neutral principles" are concerned.) It should be an elementary concession for them to make, but we shall see.
[UPDATE 01/28/2002: I have added a link to a downloadable copy of the petition above.]