Wednesday, August 2, 2017

BREAKING - So. Carolina Decision Is Out

Published just a few minutes ago. Here is the court's own summary:

In a divided decision, the trial court's order is reversed as to twenty-nine parishes and affirmed as to the remaining parishes. The trial court's intellectual property ruling is affirmed by a vote of 2-2, with one justice declining to reach the issue.

Here are the seven parishes (and one land trust) which, by a 3-2 vote, were not subject to the Dennis Canon: Christ the King, Waccamaw; St. Matthews Church, Darlington; St. Andrews Church-Mt. Pleasant Land Trust; St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Conway; The Episcopal Church of the Parish of Prince George Winyah, Georgetown; the Parish of St. Andrew, Mt. Pleasant; St. John's Episcopal Church of Florence; and St. Matthias Episcopal Church, Summerton.

Note that the opinions are confusing as to how many "congregations" -- seven or eight -- managed to escape the Dennis Canon, by never acceding in their articles or bylaws to the Constitution and Canons of ECUSA. The reason is that one of the eight is not a congregation, but apparently a trust that holds title to church property.

The opinions show a bitterly divided Court that could not agree even upon the basic framework by which to decide the case (what the Court calls "the standard of review"). I put a lot of the blame for this divisiveness upon Justice Hearn, about whose blatant bias I wrote at the time of the oral argument. Her opinion concurring with Justice Pleicones might as well have been written by David Booth Beers.

In a nutshell, here is the determinative dispute among the members of the Court. First, let Acting Justice Pleicones explain how he (and Justice Hearn, and Chief Justice Beatty) view the case (footnote omitted; emphasis added):
Since the main purposes of this suit were requests for declaratory judgments and injunctive relief, I find that it sounds in equity.  Doe v. S.C. Med. Mal. Liab. Joint Underwriting Ass'n, 347 S.C. 642, 557 S.E.2d 670 (2001). The Court is therefore free to take its own view of the facts. 

Now listen to dissenting (and former Chief) Justice Toal as she counters that argument (I omit her footnotes):

First, I strongly disagree with the lead opinion's statement of the standard of review. The lead opinion contends that because the plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief, this is an equitable matter. As a result, the lead opinion finds the Court is free to take its own view of the facts.

However, by the terms of their complaint, the plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment as to the rightful ownership, under South Carolina law, of the real, personal, and intellectual property of the disassociated diocese, the plaintiff parishes, and the trustee corporation. The plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief is clearly confined to the defendants' use of the plaintiffs' names, seals, and emblems—which, as I explain further, infra, is ultimately a question of federal law. 
"A suit for declaratory judgment is neither legal nor equitable; rather, it is determined by the nature of the underlying issue." Sloan v. Greenville Hosp. Sys., 388 S.C. 152, 157, 694 S.E.2d 532, 534 (2010). Rather than looking to the relief sought, appellate courts must look to the "main purpose" of the underlying issue to determine whether the action is at law or in equity. Verenes v. Alvanos, 387 S.C. 11, 16, 690 S.E.2d 771, 773 (2010); Sloan v. Greenville Cnty., 356 S.C. 531, 544, 590 S.E.2d 338, 345 (Ct. App. 2003).

Here, the central issue of this dispute (as succinctly put by the lead opinion) is the determination of title to real property. Therefore, the action is one at law. 
If the action is at law, then the trial court's findings of fact must be upheld unless they lack substantial evidence to support them. But if the case is one in equity, then as Acting Justice Pleicones says, the Court is free to start afresh as though trial had never happened, and take its own view of the facts.

Note that Justice Hearn supplied the third vote for the latter view, which thus became the majority view. But she was so biased from the outset that she was incapable of any kind of neutral analysis of this determinative issue. She simply adopts the view that will allow her to make the majority in the case. Had she recused herself (as she should have), the decision below may well have been affirmed as to the 29 unlucky parishes.

That's all I can write for now -- I will have much more on this rather surprising result as soon as I finish my analysis. Those wanting a little more detail, as well as an overview, could do worse than watch the interview just given to Anglican Unscripted, which was put up live on Facebook.


  1. Replies
    1. Langley Granbery, two Justices (Pleicones and Hearn, who has an obvious conflict) voted that title to Camp St. Christopher reverts to the ECUSA-led Diocese by ecclesiastical fiat, and two Justices (Kittredge and Toal) voted that ownership of the Camp is in the hands of its trustees for the benefit of the ACNA Diocese, as the corporation of those trustees remains affiliated with Bishop Lawrence, having gone through the proper motions to amend its governing documents under South Carolina law to remove ECUSA as a beneficiary.

      Chief Justice Beatty appears to have split the baby in two: he would hold that title to the Camp remains in its trustees, but further that they hold it in trust for the ECUSA Diocese, since he does not view the ACNA Diocese as the successor of the original ECUSA Diocese.

      So the trustees and their lawyers have their work cut out for them to interpret this miasma. There is no separate trust corporation for the benefit of the ECUSA-led Diocese, as I understand it; the only such entity is that controlled by Bishop Lawrence's Diocese. How that corporation is supposed to serve two masters is a Gordian knot that the parties and the trial court will have to resolve on remand.

  2. All those historic churches now turned over to demonic forces (for such is my view of TEC). There's a statement out this morning about the Diocese's position; haven't had time to read it and see if they have options going forward. This is appalling.

  3. Is there any appeal from here? Or is it a matter of state law without grounds for Federal District Court of Appeals?

  4. Sounds like Justice Hearn should clearly have recused herself. This alone should be the basis for a successful appeal.