Saturday, April 07, 2018

Break-Away Texas Anglican Group Loses In Latest Round of Long-Running Case

In The Episcopal Church v. Salazar, (TX App, April 5, 2018), a Texas state appeals court issued another ruling in a long running dispute over ownership of property of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. In 2008, the Diocese voted to disaffiliate from The Episcopal Church and to become part of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. In 2009, The Episcopal Church sued claiming ownership of the Diocese's property. The litigation has moved up and down the Texas court system, including to the Texas Supreme Court, ever since.  In this week's opinion, the state Court of Appeals reversed in part a trial court decision and held that control of the property resides in the group that remained with The Episcopal Church under the leadership of Bishop Scott Mayer, rather than with the break-away group led by Bishop Jack Iker. The court said in part:
Individual members of a parish may decide to worship elsewhere; a majority of individual members of a parish or diocese may decide to do so. But when they leave, they are no longer “Episcopalians” as identified by TEC; they become something else. And that something else is not entitled to retain property if that property, under the terms of the deed, is held in trust for a TEC-affiliated diocese or congregation. By rejecting TEC, Appellees also rejected any claim to items and property affiliated with TEC or with being a TEC-affiliated diocese to the extent that the instruments of ownership spell out an express interest. While a decision to disaffiliate is an ecclesiastical matter, what happens to the property is not, unless the affairs have been ordered so that the ecclesiastical decisions effectively determine the property issue....
In reaching its decision, the court refused to rely on  The Episcopal Church's Dennis Canon that "purports to impose a trust for TEC and TEC’s diocese on parish, mission, and congregation real and personal property," saying in part:
Because under Texas law, an entity that does not own the property to be held in trust cannot establish a trust for itself simply by decreeing that it is the beneficiary of a trust, the Dennis Canon, by itself, did not establish a trust under Texas law....
The Fort Worth Star Telegram reporting on the decision says that it is likely to be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.