Sunday, March 15, 2009

A ray of hope in California

The January 5 victory by the TEC over Continuing Anglican parishes hoping to keep their property was widely perceived as resolving the issue once and for all. “California Supreme Court says breakaway parish can't take national church's property” blared the Los Angeles Times headline.

Based on my knowledge of the law, I was a little more cautious than most:
Since the decision sends the case back to Superior Court, St. James Anglican hopes to win in trial court, but with the Appeals and Supreme courts against them, it’s definitely an uphill fight.

If the California decision holds — and it will take years to say for sure — this is likely to strip real property from at least four Los Angeles and three San Diego parishes that have left since Schori was elected Presiding Bishop.
The decision, after all, was just a procedural one, not one on its merits: the California court said that the TEC has a plausible case, not that it was legally correct. Still I (and others) were struck by the sweeping rhetoric of the decision, demolishing each of the Anglican parish arguments in turn.

In fact, there was a disconnect between the stage of the legal case — a procedural decision on the Anglican parishes’ attempts to throw the case out — and the broad sweep of the rhetoric.

The Anglican Curmudgeon had the same reading of the ruling and the law, but has gone one step further. He found a Supreme Court clarification which reined in some of the sweeping rhetoric. As he summarizes:
First, note that the Court has definitively backed off from its pretense to have decided the merits of the case; instead, it has only "addressed" them---or, in the other instance, it has "analyzed" the merits instead of "resolving" them. This is a huge relief to all concerned.

"On this record", however, has a further technical meaning in this case, which attorneys will appreciate. For in the case of the complaint brought by ECUSA, the trial court granted the defendant parish's demurrer to it without leave to amend. (A "demurrer" to a complaint is just the same as saying: "So what if everything you say in your complaint were true? You still haven't stated a case on which the court can grant the relief for which you are asking [in this case, the transfer of the parish's property to the Diocese and to ECUSA]. And when a court "sustains", i.e., upholds, the defendant's demurrer "without leave to amend", it means that nothing the plaintiff could plead in his complaint would change the result---it would still not state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The case is then over, without the defendant ever having had to answer, because the plaintiff's case is so weak that it could not succeed even if everything the complaint says---or could conceivably say under the circumstances---were true.)

Thus in reversing the dismissal of ECUSA's complaint, the judgment of the Supreme Court has the effect of reinstating the complaint, and requiring defendants to answer it (they cannot demur to it any more). The Court has held, in effect, that if everything the Church alleges were true, then it would be entitled to the property of St. James's, Newport Beach.
I encourage all concerned Anglicans to read his complete analysis.

I would not have seen this legal update without the link from San Diego Anglicans, one of the few blogs I know that’s written about the spiritual and temporal issues facing Continuing Anglicans in California. It does a particularly good job of covering the Western Anglican Congregations, the proto-diocese for Schism II churches in Los Angeles, San Diego and Arizona.

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