Saturday, September 4, 2010

Court Cases Postponed in Fresno and Texas

Two of the important cases involving the Episcopal Church (USA)'s claims to church property have recently been postponed by the courts.

In the Hood County case in Texas, involving the pseudo-diocese of Fort Worth's claims on a bequest from the Cynthia Brants trust to St. Andrew's parish in Fort Worth, Judge Ralph Walton has entered an order of abatement, which holds all further proceedings in the matter until the principal case in Tarrant County, before Judge John Chupp, is resolved between the pseudo-diocese and the only true diocese as to who controls the corporate structures. For more background on the Hood County case and its relation to the claims in the Tarrant County court, see this post, and this one. For more on the Tarrant County case, start with this post, and then follow the later links at this page.

Essentially, the Court of Appeal in Fort Worth has pointed out the obvious: there is one, and only one, Corporation of the Diocese of Fort Worth, incorporated under the laws of the State of Texas in February 1983. That Corporation is governed, and its Trustees are elected, by the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, organized in late 1982, and admitted into the Church as of January 1983.

The minority of Episcopalians who dissented from the vote in November 2009 to amend the constitution of the Diocese have ever since claimed to constitute the "Diocese" itself under Texas law, contrary to principles of corporate majority rule, and based solely on the fact that they are Episcopalians and thus members of a Church which they claim forbids dioceses from so amending their governing documents. But they can point to no written provisions in the national constitution or canons which place such limits on member dioceses, so their arguments are all based on what they claim the law must imply from the relationships among the dioceses alone. They claim that the ecclesiastical nature of those relationships trumps Texas law relating to associations and corporations.

Judge Chupp will decide on the merits of those claims. The Episcopal minority is still disputing how the parties in the case should be called, and Judge Chupp has scheduled a telephonic conference to address that issue for September 14, before moving on to the merits of the case. Based on how he rules on the minority's claims, Judge Walton will then decide whether they also have any claim to the distributions from the Brants trust in Hood County.

In the primary case in San Joaquin, brought by the pseudo-diocese of San Joaquin and its pseudo-bishop, there are very similar issues at stake, withe the minority claiming that they control the corporate structures, and that implied relationships under ecclesiastical law trump State law concerning the government of religious associations and corporations. The Fifth District Court of Appeals had scheduled oral arguments for September 8 on a writ to review the trial court's grant of partial summary judgment. However, due to a conflict in personal schedules, the Court has taken the arguments on that date off calendar. It has notified the parties that oral arguments will be rescheduled for a date during mid-October, to be announced later.

For more background on the San Joaquin case, please see the posts linked at this page.


  1. A.S.: what is the most difficult task or legal maneuver the TEC rump diocese will have to do in order to win in Tarrant County? Will this come down to what is written black and white on paper as to who owns what by the name on the title and also the C&C of 1983? What will the greatest challenges be for our attorney, Shelbey Sharp?

  2. David J, the rump diocese has both Texas statutory and case law against it -- a minority of a group simply cannot assert that it is now the majority, and controls the entire group. If Judge Chupp applies Texas law, I do not see how the rump diocese can prevail. And that will be Mr. Sharpe's challenge: to keep the court focused on Texas law.

  3. If the courts are not focused on the law, what are they focused on? Sounds like we need judges who actually know about law

  4. I wonder if this postponement is awaiting some results from our Diocesan Convention which meets in mid- October as well??

    David J, Mr. Haley is one of the sharpest legal minds on Canon Law. If the Supreme courts had been focused more the actual law in their states, there would have been more decisions like the one in SouthCarolina. Alas, TECUSA's "hierachial" church blather seems to winning the day. Of course recent changes in Canon IV make that even more probable.

    SC Blu Cat Lady