Parties File Summary Judgment Responses in Diocesan Litigation

Parties File Summary Judgment Responses in Diocesan Litigation

On January 7, 2011 the Episcopal Parties filed responses to the motion for partial summary judgment filed by the faction of former Episcopalians led by former Bishop Jack Iker. The responses, filed in the 141st District Court of Tarrant County, were filed by The Episcopal Church, the Local Episcopal Parties (Bishop Ohl and other individual diocesan officials), and Episcopal Congregations (Episcopal parishes and missions, with clergy and vestry members from those congregations).

These responses are in preparation for the summary judgment hearings set for Friday, January 14, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. in the 141st District Court. The filings are:

  1. Local Episcopal Parties’ Response to Defendants’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
  2. The Episcopal Church’s Response to Defendants’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
  3. Episcopal Congregations’ Notice of Adoption by Reference Pursuant to Tex. R. Civ. P. 58 (adopting the response, evidence and objections of the Local Episcopal Parties)
  4. All Episcopal Parties’ Objections to Defendants’ Summary Judgment Evidence
  5. Supplemental Evidence in Support of All Episcopal Parties’ Responses to Defendants’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (VERY LARGE, 12Mb, unable to attach)

This material responds to arguments asserted by the Southern Cone parties in their own motion for partial summary judgment. A summary of their arguments and the Episcopal response is on pages 5 – 10 of the Local Episcopal Parties’ Response.

The Southern Cone parties also filed their own responses challenging the Episcopal Parties’ motions for summary judgment, filed in October 2010 and December 2010.

The Episcopal Congregations also filed a motion for continuance regarding the Southern Cone motion for summary judgment.

The Texas court rules permit a summary judgment as an efficient way to resolve a legal dispute when (1) there is no disputed issue of material fact and, (2) based on those undisputed facts, the party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Instead of presiding over a trial with live witnesses testifying, the trial judge considers only the motions, briefs, affidavits, and other documentary evidence presented by the parties and the argument of the attorneys for the parties. Most of the courts across the country which have considered the issues in church property disputes have issued summary judgments. Both sides agree that this case is proper for summary judgment. Judge Chupp will study the materials filed by both sides, hear the legal arguments and ask questions of the attorneys for both sides, and decide whether he grants judgment for one side or the other, or neither, or on some issues but not others (leaving only those remaining issues for trial).

The Episcopal Parties primarily argue that the First Amendment and over 100 years of Texas law requires that the trial defer to determinations made by The Episcopal Church and its continuing Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, on issues such as who is and is not the bishop of the Diocese and the trustees of the Diocesan Corporation, and similar “core” ecclesiastical issues protected by the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.