It is a fact well known to certain Episcopalians—both those who have left the Episcopal Church (USA) and those who have remained—that ECUSA and its dioceses have followed a pattern of suing any church that chooses to leave for another Anglican jurisdiction. But the full extent of the litigation that has ensued is not well known at all, either in the wider Church, or among the provinces of the Anglican Communion.
Your Curmudgeon proposes to do what he can to rectify this situation, by publishing an annual update on this site of the current status of all past and present cases in which ECUSA or any of its dioceses has been or is involved, from 2000 to date. Feel free to link to this post, to email links to it to other Episcopalians, and to send it to your Bishop—and feel free to post any updates or corrections in the comments.
The lawsuits initiated by ECUSA and its dioceses to date are first listed below, followed by a list of the six cases begun by a diocese or parish against the Episcopal Church. The listing endeavors to be as complete as I can make it. The first 78 cases, grouped by the State in which they each originated, are the legal actions filed since 2000 (of which I am aware) where the Episcopal Church (USA) and/or one of its dioceses played the role of plaintiff—the party who initiates a case in court by filing a complaint to seize the assets and real property of any church choosing to leave ECUSA. Please note that wherever possible the actual citation of any published decision in the case has been given. Also, please note the dates for the later cases, which demonstrate the acceleration of litigation by ECUSA and its dioceses in defiant rejection of the Primates’ call for a moratorium on litigation at the Dar es Salaam meeting.
1. Against Christ Anglican Church in Mobile, Alabama (plaintiff was the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast—-the suit settled in 2001 before trial).
2.-4. Against St. John’s Episcopal Church in Fallbrook, California (CA); St. Anne’s, in Oceanside CA; and Holy Trinity, in Ocean Beach, CA (plaintiff in all three cases is the Diocese of San Diego). Trial court ruled against the two latter parishes following the decision by the California Supreme Court in the St. James Newport Beach case; parishes decided not to appeal.
5. New case by TEC against St. John’s Episcopal Church in Fallbrook, CA: Dale W. New, Richard L. Goodlake and the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego v. The Rev. Donald L. Kroeger, et al. (following its decision in the St. James case (No. 6 below), the California Supreme Court ordered republished the decision of the Fourth Appellate District [167 Cal.App.4th 800, 84 Cal.Rptr.3d 464 (2008)], awarding the property to the plaintiff Diocese of San Diego; the defendants did not seek further review)
6-8. Against St. James Anglican Church, Newport Beach CA and two others; Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and ECUSA v. St. James (Newport Beach) et al. (lead case), Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and ECUSA v. All Saints (Long Beach) et al., Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and ECUSA v. St. David’s (North Hollywood) et al.; Episcopal Church Cases, S155094 (Diocese of Los Angeles is plaintiff, joined by ECUSA; following its decision overruling the defendants’ demurrers and reversing the trial court’s grant of a motion to strike [45 Cal.4th 467, 87 Cal.Rptr.3d 275, 198 P.3d 66, cert. denied, 130 S.Ct. 179 (2009)], the California Supreme Court subsequently reversed a judgment entered against St. James and ordered that the case go forward; litigation is now in the discovery phase). Trial court rulings against the other two parishes are currently on appeal.
9. Against St. Luke’s of the Mountains Anglican Church, et al, La Crescenta CA; Patricia Huber, The Right Rev. Sergio Carranza, The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Los Angeles, The Right Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles v. The Rev. Dr. Ronald W. Jackson, St. Luke’s of the Mountains Anglican Church, et al. (Fourth Appellate District ruled in favor of Plaintiff Diocese of Los Angeles [175 Cal.App.4th 663, 96 Cal.Rptr.3d 346]; parish decided not to appeal further)
10. Against St. John’s Anglican Church in Petaluma, CA ; Episcopal Diocese of Northern California v. St. John’s Anglican Church, Petaluma (Sonoma County Superior Court; parties agreed to settle following California Supreme Court decision, parish moved to another location and is now a member of ACNA); (Diocese of Northern California was plaintiff)
11. Against Bishop John David Schofield and the diocesan investment fund in the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, CA (ACNA); Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, The Rt. Rev. Jerry A. Lamb and The Episcopal Church v. Bishop John-David Schofield and The Episcopal Foundation of San Joaquin (Fresno Superior Court; case involves the Diocese of San Joaquin withdrawing from the Episcopal Church); (the TEC-established and -funded Diocese of San Joaquin is the Plaintiff); case is back in Superior Court after successful appeal by Bishop Schofield to the Fifth Appellate District [190 Cal.App.4th 154, 118 Cal.Rptr.3d 160], in discovery phase, with trial in late summer 2013)
12. Against Trinity Anglican Church in Bristol, Connecticut (CT) (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Connecticut; case settled in 2008; congregation left property to the Diocese)
13. Against The Rector and former vestry of Bishop Seabury Church in Groton, CT; (Plaintiff was the Diocese of Connecticut; parish lost decision in trial court, and Connecticut Supreme Court recently affirmed that decision [302 Conn. 408, 28 A.3d 302]; parish’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in June 2012, along with a Presbyterian case from Georgia [132 Sup.Ct. 2773])
14. Against Redeemer Anglican Church in Jacksonville, Florida (FL): Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Florida v. Lebhar, Case No. 16-2006-CA-002361 (Duval Cnty. Fla. Cir Ct.) (plaintiff was the Diocese of Florida; parish left property to go to other premises)
15. Against Christ Church in Savannah, Georgia, GA; Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, Inc., The Episcopal Church, et al. v. The Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of Christ Church in Savannah, et al., (Civil Action No. CV07-2039KA, Superior Ct., Chatham County). (Plaintiffs Diocese of Georgia and ECUSA, joined subsequently by shadow congregation formed by the Diocese, won in Court of Appeal and recently in Georgia Supreme Court [290 Ga. 95, 718 S.E.2d 237]; congregation handed over keys to property on 12/12/2011 and later dismissed petition to U.S. Supreme Court)
16. Against All Saints Church in Attleboro, Massachusetts (MA) (plaintiff was the Diocese of Massachusetts; the case settled in 2007)
17. Against St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Morehead City, North Carolina (NC) (plaintiff was the Diocese of East Carolina and those members of the parish who had not voted to join AMiA; following a jury mistrial, plaintiffs obtained summary judgment which was affirmed on appeal in Daniel v. Wray, 580 S.E.2d 711 [N.C. App. 2003])
18. Against the Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York (NY); The Diocese of Central New York v. The Rector, Church Wardens, and Vestrymen of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Index No. 2008-0980 (N.Y. Sup Ct. Broome Cnty) (Plaintiff was the Diocese of Central New York, joined by TEC; trial court ruled in favor of Diocese, parish chose to move to other premises, and Diocese eventually sold church buildings to Muslim group for a mosque)
19. Against St. Joseph’s Anglican Church (formerly Trinity Church of East New York) in Brooklyn, NY, which originally separated from ECUSA in 1977, before the adoption of the Dennis Canon (plaintiff was the Diocese of Long Island, in a second action brought in 2005 after it lost its first suit, filed in the early 1980’s—-the case settled early in 2008, and St. Joseph’s kept its property in exchange for a below-market value payment of $275,000)
20. Against St. James Anglican Church in Elmhurst (Queens), NY (plaintiff was the Diocese of Long Island; summary judgment against the parish in March 2008 was not appealed)
21. Against All Saints Protestant Episcopal Church in Rochester, NY; Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, et al. v. Harnish et al., Index No. 2006-2669 (N.Y. Sup Ct. Monroe Cnty.) (plaintiff was the Diocese of Rochester; N.Y. Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Diocese, based on NY statute giving effect to Dennis Canon [11 N.Y.3d 340, 899 N.E.2d 920 )
22. Against St. Andrew’s in Syracuse, NY; Diocese of Central New York, et al. v. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Index No. 2006-4606 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Onondaga Cnty.) (plaintiff originally was the Diocese of Central New York, and TEC’s Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society later intervened—-Diocese refused to settle the lawsuit by leasing property to parish, so parish walked away in 2007)
23. Against the Church of St. James the Less, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PA); In re Church of St. James the Less, 585 Pa. 428; 888 A.2d 795 (2005); (Plaintiff was the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and ultimately prevailed in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2005; historic church building remains still empty as of 2013)
24. Against Church of the Epiphany Herndon, Virginia (VA); The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Church of the Epiphany, Herndon, CL 2007-1235 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia – see news for cases 35-45 below)
25. Against Truro Church Fairfax VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Truro Church, CL 2007-1236 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia – see news for cases 35-45 below)
26. Against Christ the Redeemer Church, Chantilly VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Christ the Redeemer Church, CL 2007-1237 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia – see news for cases 35-45 below)
27. Against Church of the Apostles, Fairfax VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Church of the Apostles, CL 2007-1238 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia – see news for cases 35-45 below)
28. Against The Falls Church, Falls Church VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. The Church at The Falls – The Falls Church, CL 2007-5250 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.)(formerly Case No. 07-125, Circuit Court for Arlington County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia – see news for cases 35-45 below)
29. Against Potomac Falls Church, Potomac Falls VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of Virginia v. Potomac Falls Church, CL 2007-5362 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.)(formerly Case No. 44149, Circuit Court for Loudoun County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia – see news for cases 35-45 below)
30. Against Church of Our Saviour, Oatlands VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Church of Our Saviour at Oatlands, CL 2007-5364 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.) (formerly Case No. 44148, Circuit Court for Loudoun County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; parish settled with Diocese in 2011 by agreeing to a five-year leaseback of the property, and to disaffiliate from ACNA)
31. Against St. Margaret’s Church, Woodbridge VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. St. Margaret’s Church, CL 2007-5682 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.) (formerly Case No. CL 73465, Circuit Court for Prince William Cnty., Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia – see news for cases 35-45 below)
32. Against St. Paul’s Church, Haymarket VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. St. Paul’s Church, Haymarket, Case No. CL 73466 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.) (formerly CL 2007-5683, Prince William County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia – see news for cases 35-45 below)
33. Against Church of the Word, Gainesville VA: The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Church of the Word, CL 2007-5684 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va. )(formerly Case No. CL 73464, Circuit Court for Prince William County, Va.); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia; parish agreed to settle with the Diocese in early 2011 on terms similar to those with the Church of Our Savior, Oatlands)
34. Against St. Stephen’s Church, Heathsville VA; The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. St. Stephen’s Church, CL 2007-5902 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va.)(formerly Case No. CL 07-16, Circuit Court for Northumberland County, Va); (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Virginia – see next entry for update)
35-45. Against Truro Church and all of the Virginia Anglican churches affiliating with CANA above, Plaintiff is the Episcopal Church (USA); The Episcopal Church v. Truro Church, et al., CL 2007-1625 (Circuit Court for Fairfax County, Va; case was tried again in Circuit Court in 2011 following reversal by Virginia Supreme Court in 2010 of trial court’s earlier decision in favor of parishes; trial court ruled this time in favor of Diocese; all defendants have surrendered their property to the Diocese, with Truro leasing theirs back for a limited time; only The Falls Church has appealed to the Va. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the appeal in 2013)
46-50. Against St. Luke’s Church in Akron, Ohio (OH) and four other northeast Ohio parishes; The Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, et al.v. Anglican Church of the Transfiguration, et al., Civil Action No CV 08 654973 (Cuyahoga County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas); (plaintiff is the Diocese of Ohio; trial court granted summary judgment in its favor, and parishes have left their properties)
51. Against Church of the Good Shepherd, San Angelo, Texas (TX) (Plaintiff is the Diocese of NW Texas; parish lost below and in the Court of Appeal, and after arguments in 2012, is awaiting decision by the Texas Supreme Court)
52. Against St. Edmunds Anglican Church, Elm Grove, Wisconsin (WI) (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Milwaukee) (trial court granted summary judgment against parish in 2011; parish later vacated the property, which remains vacant)
53-54. and ?? Against the 50+ churches of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican- Southern Cone). Plaintiff is the TEC replacement Diocese of Pittsburgh, arising out of an earlier lawsuit initiated by Calvary Church, Pittsburgh against Bishop Duncan and the Diocese of Pittsburgh to prevent them from leaving TEC. The judgment by the trial court required the Anglican Diocese to turn over all of its property to the remnant Episcopal Diocese, was affirmed by the Commonwealth Court in early 2011, and review was later denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Two parishes have since settled with the remnant diocese, which demanded that they disaffiliate from the Anglican Diocese; one moved out of its property rather than agree to such terms. Negotiations are ongoing to settle the claims of the remnant diocese against the properties of the other parishes.
55. Against St. Barnabas Anglican Church, Omaha, Nebraska (Plaintiff is the Diocese of Nebraska; trial court denied parish’s motion for summary judgment, and granted summary judgment to the Diocese; appeal is pending once a final judgment is entered )
56. Against the Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker and the other trustees of the Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, in the 141st District Court of Tarrant County, TX (Plaintiffs, the remnant diocese and its appointed bishop, were later joined by the Episcopal Church, and the lawsuit was subsequently broadened to include all individual parishes of the remnant diocese as cross-complainants, and all individual parishes of +Iker’s Episcopal Diocese as cross-defendants; the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the remnant diocese and its bishop in early 2011 is on a direct appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, which heard arguments in October 2012 and has not yet published its decision)
57. Against St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church of Ft. Worth, in Hood County District Court, TX (Plaintiff is the remnant diocese of Ft. Worth and Bishop Ohl, its provisional bishop; plaintiff seeks to have the proceeds of a trust fund left to St. Andrew’s, which remains with Bishoip Iker and his Diocese, turned over to the remnant group; the trial court stayed the proceedings pending the outcome in the case described in the previous paragraph)
58. Against the Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker individually, for alleged trademark infringement, in federal district court in Ft. Worth (plaintiffs are the remnant diocese and its bishop; court stayed proceedings pending the outcome of the main case [No. 55 above])
59. Against The Rt. Rev. Jack Iker, individually, and unnamed agents and representatives acting with him as part of the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth, in federal district court in Ft. Worth (Plaintiffs are TEC funded and supported members of the vestry of All Saints Episcopal Church, Ft. Worth, as reported in a letter of January 21, 2009 published by Stand Firm; the grounds alleged are very similar to those alleged in the suit described in the previous paragraph; suit is on hold pending the outcome of the main case [No. 56 above])
60. Against St. Andrew’s in the Pines Anglican Church, Fayette County, Georgia, Superior Court, Civil Action No. 2007-V0272C, October 2007 (Plaintiff was the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta; parish left its property behind and formed a CANA congregation)
61-69. Against St. Columba’s Fresno, and its rector and its vestry members, in Fresno County Superior Court (2010); St. Francis Anglican Parish of Turlock, and its rector and its vestry members, in Stanislaus County Superior Court (2010); St. Michael’s Anglican Parish of Ridgecrest, and its rector and its vestry members, in Kern County Superior Court (2010); the Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of St. John’s Parish in Porterville, California, in Tulare County Superior Court (2010); St. James Church, Sonora, and its rector and its vestry members, in Tuolumne County Superior Court (2010); the Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of Redeemer Parish in Delano, California, in Kern County Superior Court (2010); the Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of St. Paul’s Parish in Visalia, California, in Tulare County Superior Court (2010); St. Paul’s Anglican parish in Bakersfield, California, and its rector and its vestry members, in Kern County Superior Court (2010); the Wardens and Vestry of St. John’s, Stockton, and its rector and its vestry members, in San Joaquin County Superior Court (2010); (plaintiffs are the remnant diocese of San Joaquin and its bishop; suits seek an order turning over control of all parish property to the bishop of the remnant diocese; Superior Court of Fresno County denied a motion to consolidate all nine cases with the one alrerady pending there [No. 11 above]; cases are in various stages of discovery)
70-78. Against the rectors and vestry members of the same nine parishes in Nos. 61-69 above, in the same Superior Courts, respectively (2011) (these are complaints in intervention in the process of being filed by the Episcopal Church)
As a matter of fairness, I also list the number of cases where the Episcopal Church (USA) or one of its dioceses is the defendant and not the plaintiff. There are only six instances, as shown below. But in all but the first, it was the diocese (or ECUSA) which triggered the filing of a lawsuit by moving to take control of the individual church’s assets, and the legal actions that followed were essentially a defensive response against those moves.
1. The earliest instance of a parish starting a lawsuit was in 2000, after a dispute arose between All Saints Parish, Pawley’s Island, South Carolina (SC), the Diocese of South Carolina, and TEC in connection with the formation of the Anglican Mission in America. The suit eventually found its way to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which in September 2009 issued a decision finding that the Dennis Canon did not create any kind of a trust interest in parish property under South Carolina law, and ruling that the property remained with the parish despite its disaffiliation from the Episcopal Church (385 S.C. 428, 685 S.E.2d 163).
2. An action was brought in 2005 in federal district court by six parishes and their rectors (the “Connecticut Six”) against the Diocese of Connecticut, whose bishop had suspended the priests in question and taken over some of the church properties. The court dismissed the lawsuit the next year, and the diocese has since brought the actions listed as Nos. 12 and 13 above.
3. Grace Church & St. Stephens, Colorado Springs, Colorado, sought declaratory judgment against the Bishop and the Diocese of Colorado. However, in that suit, the plaintiff church sought a simple declaration that the diocese had no right, title or interest in its property, in response to an attempt by the diocese to freeze the church’s bank accounts. The response of the diocese was to file a counterclaim against the church, its rector and 17 of its vestry and leading parishioners seeking millions of dollars in damages. The trial court granted judgment for the Diocese following a trial in 2009, and the parish chose not to appeal, but to move from the property to a new location.
4. The Diocese of the Rio Grande and St. Francis on the Hill (El Paso, TX): St. Francis began the suit with a claim for declaratory relief in response to the threat of suit by the diocese to take their property. Eventually the trial court granted summary judgment to the Diocese, and the parish left its property.
5. The Diocese of Quincy sued the Episcopal Church in 2009 for declaratory relief after the latter had asked the diocese’s bank to freeze its accounts. The case is still in the trial court, where the Church, joined by the remnant diocese, brought a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court denied, holding that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the Church is “hierarchical” as it claims. Trial is set for April 2013.
6. The Diocese of South Carolina sued the Episcopal Church in January 2013 in the Court of Common Pleas for Dorchester County after the Church began “abandonment of Communion” proceedings against the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, which action triggered the Diocese’s immediate withdrawal. The suit was filed before TEC could fulfill its announced intention to sue the Bishop and the Diocesan trustees for the Diocese’s property and bank accounts, once it reorganizes a new Episcopal diocese at a special convention called for later in January 2013.