Judge Chupp has entered a final judgment against TEC, its rump diocese of Fort Worth and its parishes, thereby ending the lawsuit in which they sought to claim the corporation, property and bank accounts owned and controlled by Bishop Jack L. Iker and his co-trustees. Judge Chupp ordered that the plaintiffs “take nothing” from their complaint. This leaves all real property, corporate control and diocesan bank accounts exactly as they were after Bishop Iker and his Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth voted to leave TEC in November 2008.
The TEC parties have said they plan to appeal the final judgment to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal. However, any such appeal will be guided by the “neutral principles of law” announced by the Texas Supreme Court when it reversed Judge Chupp’s original judgment in their favor, based upon his belief that he was required by Texas law to defer to the “hierarchical” Episcopal Church. Under neutral principles, the Texas courts look solely to the documents establishing a party’s title: whose name is on the deeds, what trusts have been recorded, and what (if anything) the Church’s governing documents say about a diocese’s ability to amend its own constitution so as to remove its affiliation with the Episcopal Church.
Such an appeal will probably take a year or more to resolve. The losing side could then ask the Texas Supreme Court to review the case, but its decision to do so is discretionary. The same would be true of any further request for review filed with the United States Supreme Court after the Texas courts have finished with the appeal.
In the meantime, the parties are settling upon terms for Judge Chupp to approve next month that will allow the TEC-aligned congregation of All Saints to continue to worship in the same church it has been using since the lawsuit began, until the appeal is decided. The congregation claimed to own title to all of its property, but an examination of the facts under neutral principles showed that the deeds to the actual church property were in the name of Bishop Iker’s diocesan corporation, which the court declared was the owner of All Saints. Bishop Iker is showing a good deal of Christian charity toward the congregation, which had written him a letter at the outset of the litigation threatening to take him personally to court should he venture on the property. Most recently, they rebuffed again his efforts at conciliation, and would not acknowledge his authority.