Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Litigation - the Diocese of South Carolina

For more than ten years, the Diocese of South Carolina has been home to the longest-running lawsuit involving an attempt to apply the Dennis Canon to a withdrawing parish. The lawsuit was actually begun by the parish, All Saints Parish, Waccamaw, in 2000 after the Diocese recorded a notice that it and ECUSA had a trust interest in its property, by virtue of the passage of the Dennis Canon in 1979. Here is what I wrote about the background to the suit in this earlier post:

The earliest (and, I would say, the only genuine) instance of a parish starting a lawsuit was in 2000, after a dispute arose between All Saints Parish, Pawley's Island, SC, the Diocese of South Carolina, and TEC in connection with the formation of the Anglican Mission in America. The Rev. Canon Charles Murphy, who had been rector of All Saints for over twenty years, was consecrated as an AMiA bishop in Singapore along with the Rev. John Rodgers. Bishop Edward Salmon, the diocesan of South Carolina, issued a pastoral letter expressing the canonical difficulties which the consecration created. Although Canon Murphy had announced before his consecration his intentions to remain at All Saints, alarm bells went off in the diocesan chancellor's office when it was subsequently learned that All Saints had ordered a title report on its property. This raised concerns because of what had happened earlier in Morehead City, North Carolina . . . . There St. Andrew's parish had conveyed its property to an AMiA entity without securing permission beforehand from either the Bishop or the Standing Committee as required by the applicable canons, and the deed had been recorded without any difficulty. As he explains in this letter to the members of All Saints, Bishop Salmon received advice from his chancellor that he should record with the local Register of Deeds a notice of what the Episcopal Church's canons provided with respect to conveyances of parish property. The parish considered this action as putting a cloud on their title (which they contended was in an 18th-century trust; see below), but as Bishop Salmon explains, since they were a parish in the Episcopal Church, it was the other way around: "If the permission of the Bishop and the Standing Committee are not given [to the conveyance], the title is clouded." In any event, All Saints (even though it had not yet voted to leave the Episcopal Church) brought an action to remove what it saw as a cloud on its property, and named as defendants the Diocese of South Carolina and The Episcopal Church. The latter filed counterclaims seeking to establish that the church property was held in trust for the Diocese and for TEC.

In 2003, a majority of the parish voted to leave the Diocese and affiliate with AMiA. Bishop Salmon appointed a new vestry for the parish that remained, and following a successful appeal from an initially adverse decision that vestry, joined by Bishop Salmon, the Diocese and TEC itself, filed in 2005 a second lawsuit against the vestry it replaced, seeking their ejectment from and the possession of the 60-acre church property. The two lawsuits (one from 2000 and the other from 2005) were consolidated, and tried to a jury. In April 2007, the trial court took the case away from the jury, saying that the legal issues involved were too complex, and needed to be resolved by the court, on the evidence presented to the jury. The judge handed down a lengthy and complex ruling granting judgment in part to both sides, but leaving ultimate ownership to be decided by the probate court.

That court will have some very knotty issues to untangle, as the title to the property was originally held by a charitable trust established under a 1745 will, in favor of "the Church of England". The original parish argues that since it has occupied the property continuously since the trust was established, it is now the beneficiary of that trust, which it contends is still valid. (It uses that argument to get around the Dennis Canon, contending that the earlier trust, established before there even was an Episcopal Church, controls.) The only problem is that the trustees stopped functioning as such centuries ago: the court named "John Doe" trustees to represent the unknown common-law heirs of the two original trustees named in 1745. Those "John Doe" trustees have aligned themselves with the original parish---not surprisingly, since both groups want the trust to continue to function and hold the property. The Diocese and the surviving TEC parish, on the other hand, maintain that the trust has long since merged into the identity of the parish, and that as the only hierarchically approved entity belonging to the successor to the Church of England in the United States, it now owns the property. As I mentioned, the trial court's ruling is now on appeal, and these ownership questions will probably not be sorted out until after the appellate court has weighed in on the other issues. Talk about a complex case! [A hat-tip to the ever-reliable Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon, with his personal knowledge of the scene, for helping me to sort out the strands.]
A complex case, indeed. But now the Supreme Court of South Carolina has issued its very clear and easy to follow opinion resolving the matter, by declaring that no trust could be created by the Dennis Canon (or its Diocesan counterpart) alone in South Carolina, because the law of that State requires that any trust be created only in a writing signed by the owner of the property being placed in trust. The Court also resolved the issue of the battling vestries by holding that the original All Saints vestry had acted fully within South Carolina law by amending its Parish Articles to remove the language which made the Parish subject to the Diocese of South Carolina. In doing so, the Court rejected the Diocese's argument that the vestry members became disqualified to hold their positions as a result of the vote, and pointed out that there was no restriction of any kind on the power of the Parish to amend its Articles, or any kind of requirement that an amendment must receive approval from the Diocese before it could take effect.

My other separate posts on this Diocese, the first of which lightly annotates the Supreme Court's decision, and the second of which discusses its reception among the Episcoleft, are linked below. It is hoped that this decision, combined with an enlightened attitude on the part of diocesan leaders in South Carolina, will result in these posts being my last posts on South Carolina.

In the School for Hypocrites

What Choices Are There for the Diocese of South Carolina?

What Are the Choices for South Carolina? (Part 2)

What Are ECUSA's Choices in South Carolina?

Tempest in a Teapot in South Carolina

There They Go Again ...

New Level of Repression Signaled by Charges against +Lawrence

Once Again, Conflicts Galore on the Kangaroo Court

Bandit Bishop Running Outlaw Gang in South Carolina

The Dueling Pastors

ECUSA, ECUSA: Dysfunction Everywhere

No Surprise - Presiding Bishop Flouts the Canons Again

DioSC in Preemptive Strike against ECUSA's Attempted Identity Theft

SC Circuit Court Issues Temporary Restraining Order to Protect Diocese's Identity

An Open Letter to My Fellow Episcopalians in South Carolina

With Malice Toward None, and Charity for All?

ECUSA Cries "Uncle!" in South Carolina

Fisking an SC Blogger Who Distorts the Facts and the Law

Hostilities in South Carolina Postponed for the Nonce

Curmudgeon Goes on Vacation; Hostilities Promptly Resume in South Carolina

ECUSA's Desperation in South Carolina Knows No Bounds

An Overview of the Complex Situation in South Carolina

Decision Time in South Carolina

Federal Judge Returns South Carolina Case to State Court

More Court Proceedings in South Carolina

Court Dismisses Federal Trademark Action against Bishop Lawrence

As Long as There Are Lawyers Who Will Take its Money

Rump Diocese Tries "Hail Mary" Pass in South Carolina

Legal News Updates from South Carolina and San Joaquin

South Carolina: Move to Cut Short ECUSA's Delaying Tactics

SC and TX Courts Show 815 Which Way the Wind Blows

South Carolina Supreme Court Takes Jurisdiction of Appeals

ECUSA Prevails Again in California; Loses in South Carolina

South Carolina Rump Group Files Frivolous Appeal

South Carolina Court Reporters Will Be Busy on Monday

Falsehoods Being Spread in South Carolina

Huge Setback for ECUSA at South Carolina Trial -- Their Expert Concedes the Case

S. Carolina Day 10: When Will ECUSA Start to Play by the Rules?

Making Sense of the Trial in South Carolina

A Church that Sues Itself Is a Church?

Decision in South Carolina Case Expected Soon 

South Carolina Decision a Full Vindication for Victims of ECUSA's Oppression

ECUSA to Judge Goodstein: "We, not You, Get to Decide What Is Ours"

SC Court Makes Short Shrift of ECUSA's Motion

As Predicted: Federal Appeals Court Returns Trademark Action to SC District Court

Legal News from South Carolina and San Joaquin

Important Developments in South Carolina

On the Oral Arguments in South Carolina

Blatant Bias on Display in ECUSA's South Carolina Case

BREAKING -- So. Carolina Decision Is Out

Massive Conflict of Interest Taints South Carolina Ruling

Faults in South Carolina Decision Laid Bare

Faults in South Carolina Decision Laid Bare (II)

Judges Who Are Indifferent to Injustice

A Triumph of Injustice and Irresponsibility

Diocese of South Carolina Asks US Supreme Court for Review  

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