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Vonrosenberg v. Lawrence

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

February 21, 2017

THE RIGHT REVEREND CHARLES G. VONROSENBERG, individually and in his capacity as Provisional Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
THE RIGHT REVEREND MARK J. LAWRENCE; JOHN DOES, 1-10, being fictitious defendants whose names presently are unknown to Plaintiff and will be added by amendment when ascertained, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: December 9, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Charleston. C. Weston Houck, Senior District Judge. (2:13-cv-00587-CWH)

         ARGUED:

          Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr., HELLMAN YATES & TISDALE, Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellant.

          Henrietta U. Golding, MCNAIR LAW FIRM, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Jason S. Smith, HELLMAN YATES & TISDALE, Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellant.

          C. Alan Runyan, Andrew S. Platte, SPEIGHTS & RUNYAN, Beaufort, South Carolina; Charles H. Williams, WILLIAMS & WILLIAMS, Orangeburg, South Carolina; David Cox, BARNWELL WHALEY PATTERSON & HELMS, Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, MOTZ, Circuit Judge, and Richard D. BENNETT, United States District Judge for the District of Maryland, sitting by designation.

          DIANA GRIBBON MOTZ, Circuit Judge:

         This dispute between two clergymen - each claiming to be the Bishop of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina - comes to us a second time. Bishop Charles G. vonRosenberg initiated this action, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. He alleges that Bishop Mark J. Lawrence has violated the Lanham Act by falsely advertising himself to be the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. At Bishop Lawrence's request, the district court abstained in favor of related state court proceedings, applying Brillhart v. Excess Insurance Co. of America, 316 U.S. 491 (1942), and Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277 (1995). On appeal, we vacated that order, concluding that Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976), not Brillhart and Wilton, governs abstention decisions in actions where the plaintiff seeks both declaratory and nondeclaratory relief. See vonRosenberg v. Lawrence (vonRosenberg I), 781 F.3d 731 (4th Cir. 2015). On remand, the district court has again abstained, staying the action pending the conclusion of the state proceedings. For the reasons that follow, we must again vacate and remand for further proceedings.

         I.

         As discussed in our earlier opinion, Bishop vonRosenberg alleges that The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States ("the Episcopal Church") removed Bishop Lawrence from his position as the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina and installed Bishop vonRosenberg in his place. Bishop vonRosenberg asserts that, despite Bishop Lawrence's removal, Bishop Lawrence continues to use the service marks, names, and symbols of the Diocese and continues to hold himself out as the Bishop of the Diocese. For his part, Bishop Lawrence maintains that he was not removed from office. He contends that the Diocese of South Carolina withdrew from the Episcopal Church and now operates independently of the national organization. Accordingly, Bishop Lawrence argues that, although he no longer serves as a Bishop of the Episcopal Church, he is still the Bishop of the Diocese and thus may represent himself as such.

         We briefly sketch the course of the state and federal actions that led to ...


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