Tuesday, June 23, 2020

South Carolina Episcopal Parishes All Win Title To Their Property

In Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina v. The Episcopal Church, (SC Common Pleas, June 19, 2020), a South Carolina trial court was called upon to interpret a confusing decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court in a long-running property dispute that arose after a split in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.  In a 2017 decision, the 5-member South Carolina Supreme Court in 5 separate opinions spanning 77 pages purported to resolve the factional property dispute. The trial court concluded that, under the state Supreme Court's decision, 36 parishes are the owners of their parish real estate and accompanying personal property. The court said in part:
This Court must distill the five separate opinions, identify the Court’s intent, and produce a logical directive. It must harmonize these opinions and find common ground among them. The issue is whether the 1979 Dennis Canon or any parish’s alleged accession to that Canon created a legally cognizable trust under South Carolina law....
At issue is ownership of real property, purchased and managed exclusively by the Plaintiff Parishes including land and buildings, considerable funds, and other personal property such as books, silver, and historical archives. The crux of the disagreement rests upon the Dennis Canon and its legal effect on whether this property was ever held in trust for TEC or TECSC....
This Court finds that the Plaintiffs merely promised allegiance to TEC and without more, this promise cannot deprive them of their ownership rights in their property. This Court finds no Parish expressly acceded to the 1979 Dennis Canon. The Dennis Canon was not mentioned by name in any of the evidence, and Defendants admitted that the Dennis Canon is not referenced in any of the deeds of parish property.... As a result, there is no trust created in favor of the Defendants, TEC and TECSC.
Christian Post reports on the decision.