Episcopal Church dispute heads to state Supreme Court

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Three churches that split from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in a dispute over a gay bishop are asking the state Supreme Court to weigh in on who controls the parishes' buildings.
The petition comes a little more than a month after an appeals court ruled the buildings should be placed under control of the diocese, reversing lower court rulings in favor of the parishes.

St. James Church in Newport Beach, All Saints Church in Long Beach and St. David's Church in North Hollywood pulled out of the six-county Los Angeles Diocese in 2004, following the ordination of a gay bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire.

They announced they were placing themselves under the jurisdiction of the Anglican Church in Uganda.

The Los Angeles Diocese sued the parishes to gain control of the properties, arguing the parishes held their church buildings in trust for the diocese and the national Episcopal Church, and were not entitled to them.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC ConflictsTEC Conflicts: Los AngelesTEC Polity & Canons* Culture-WatchLaw & Legal Issues

Posted August 7, 2007 at 8:10 am

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The URL for this article is http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/4919/

1. Steven in Falls Church wrote:

One of the facts that has come to light since the California trial court heard this case is that TEC is a serial violator of its own canons, at least when it comes to the episcopal election and consent process.  We know that TEC on a number of occasions has accepted canonically deficient consent forms, and it would not surprise me if it turns out that TEC has also accepted the validity of consents that are faxed or emailed, which is the defect that sank +Lawrence’s candidacy for DioSC.  The fact that TEC arguably has “unclean hands” with respect to canonical enforcement is a factor that should weigh on any court adjudging the validity of purported trusts created by the Dennis Canon.

August 7, 9:01 am | [comment link]
2. D. C. Toedt wrote:

The newspaper’s headline is misleading; it implies that the California Supreme Court has accepted the case for hearing, whereas the body of the article indicates only that the losing side filed an appeal.

Steven in Falls Church [#1], I suspect the courts will treat the SC consent issue as apples and oranges with respect to the church’s hierarchical structure. Judges know from long experience that people don’t always dot every I and cross every T in their paperwork. So if I were you, I wouldn’t invest a lot of hope that paperwork technicalities (in a completely unrelated matter) will win the day for the secessionist L.A. parishes.

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

August 7, 10:07 am | [comment link]
3. NancyNH wrote:

I’m not a lawyer, but I did work for and with some nationally known ones.

A larger issue may be whether the “Dennis Canon” can be applied, since (if I understand it correctly), ECUSA (now TEC) never voted on it a second time, as required by their own canons.  That effectively means they cannot claim the Dennis Canon is even church law, let alone implement it.

I do believe a strong argument could be made that there is no effective and legal “canon” allowing TEC to take the property. And even if there were, they may not be entitled to it if California law is interpreted correctly.

August 7, 10:37 am | [comment link]
4. Jeff in VA wrote:


Though I don’t dispute what you’re saying about the Dennis Canon’s validity, if the Court takes the case and adopts the reasoning of the Court of Appeals, I think it’ll be extremely reluctant to judge the validity of an internal canon, which would pretty unmistakably be a religious issue.  I can see the court saying “TEC says it passed it, so they passed it.  We’re not going to second-guess them.”

August 7, 12:07 pm | [comment link]
5. William Witt wrote:

the article indicates only that the losing side filed an appeal.


I pretend no expertise at the law, but wouldn’t it be fairly unusual for the winning side to file an appeal?  So what’s the point of your including the adjective?

August 7, 12:50 pm | [comment link]
6. w.w. wrote:

I’m glad to see this appeal. It could be the beginning of something of huge significance.

If the California Supreme Court were to side with the 4th district appeals court and reject the appeal by the three churches, it would contradict the ruling it allowed to stand in the 5th district. THAT appeals court in 2004 in Fresno overturned a trial court verdict awarding the property of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church to the regional conference (=diocese in TEC speak) of the UMC. The trial court essentially made the judgment on grounds the UMC is hierarchical, that a trust on the property therefore exists under that theory of ecclesiastical control, and that the trust cannot be revoked. The appeals court, basing its judgment on Calif. corporate law, said no trust existed, and even if it did, it could be revoked. The high court let that judgment stand.

I haven’t looked to see whether there are new faces on the high court since the 2004 case.


August 7, 5:16 pm | [comment link]
7. chips wrote:

I admit I have read none of the cases involving hierarchical churches.  However - where they clearly is a schism - I would think the free exercise clause would indicate that the local church should be allowed to depart the denomination with the property unless it could be shown under neutral property law that the national church had a real interest - ie it had fronted the money.  I think the Va statute has it exactly right.

August 7, 6:18 pm | [comment link]
8. Alice Linsley wrote:

I hope that the CA Supreme Court hears the case.  May God’s will be done!


August 7, 8:16 pm | [comment link]
9. RevOrganist wrote:

Even if the CA Supreme Court denies to hear the case, it will return to the original lower court for resolution.  At that point the issue of the Dennis Canon may be argued…something that hasn’t happened.

TEC is a Plaintiff in every case except the newest one in San Diego…but we expect they will soon join that one also.  David Booth Beers as chief legal officer for TEC is also a client sending himself business as a Partner of the law firm suing these parishes.  One of his attorneys, Heather Anderson, flew out from Washington D. C. to argue the case in the Appeals Court here recently….not an L. A. Diocese attorney…but the Episcopal Church’s attorney which argued the case.  In every meeting with our attorneys, representatives from David Booth Beers law firm has been present.  In fact, TEC has spent millions of dollars in attorney and air fare fees to sue over 4 dozen church volunteers and clergy in California alone during the past 3 years, even though those volunteers don’t own the local church properties.

TEC always intervenes on the ground that they have significant interests at stake that the local Diocese cannot address on their own.  Attorneys for TEC have been very active in litigating these cases, with numerous motions and court appearances in California.

August 8, 1:31 am | [comment link]
10. w.w. wrote:


“In fact, TEC has spent millions of dollars in attorney and air fare fees…”

Millions?  Got a ballpark total?  Documented evidence for saying so?


August 8, 9:08 am | [comment link]
11. RevOrganist wrote:

An Open Letter to the Executive Council:  Where is the Money Coming From?  http//:www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/4405 ——This article calls for an accounting…but nothing has been forthcoming.

I know that just one parish has spent close to a million defending itself.  Multiply that by the number of lawsuits that TEC has filed against parishes, individual vestry members, and clergy…and you have a figure that is multi-millions.

August 8, 3:09 pm | [comment link]
12. LTN wrote:

RevOrganist…can you share which parish spent “close to one million” defending itself? If you can’t name the parish, can you give the general location? It just seems quite high.

August 8, 3:40 pm | [comment link]
13. RevOrganist wrote:

There is no reason to disclose the name or location of the parish when TEC has refused to disclose the dollar figure they have spent in litigation against those faithful Christians who have given sacrificially to build and furnish their places of worship.  One dollar is too much,  but when you consider at least 2 full-time attorneys, other firm lawyers, and their legal aids have spent over 2 years on this….then less than a million does not “seem quite high”.  This is not about the money or about the property.

August 9, 2:03 pm | [comment link]

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