Attorneys for Bishop Charles G. vonRosenberg have filed a notice in federal court of an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, seeking to overturn a federal judge’s decision to abstain and stay the federal false-advertising lawsuit against the bishop of a breakaway group.
The lawsuit, vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, was filed in March 2013, a few months after Mark Lawrence and a breakaway group announced they were leaving The Episcopal Church. The suit involves a claim of false advertising under the federal Lanham Act. Bishop vonRosenberg is the only bishop recognized by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. By continuing to represent himself as bishop of the diocese, Mark Lawrence is committing false advertising, the lawsuit says. Read more about the case here.
U.S. District Court Judge C. Weston Houck on September issued a stay in the case, delaying a ruling until the final outcome of a separate state lawsuit that is now before the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Judge Houck had initially granted a motion to abstain from the case, citing the pending state lawsuit. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit appeals court found that the judge applied the wrong legal standard in deciding to abstain, and should have followed the principles set forth in the Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States decision, which says the court may abstain only in “exceptional” circumstances.
In his order September 22, Judge Houck said that the case does present the exceptional circumstances necessary for him to defer to the state courts on the matter.
The state litigation involves a suit filed by the breakaway group against The Episcopal Church and its local diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, over control of the assets and identity of the diocese. An appeal in that case is currently before the South Carolina Supreme Court. Oral arguments were heard September 23 and a ruling could come at any time.