vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, No. 14-1122 (4th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
This case involved a dispute between two clergymen, each of whom believed himself to be the proper leader of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. Bishop Charles vonRosenberg brought this action against Bishop Mark Lawrence, alleging Lanham Act violations and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Bishop Lawrence asked the district court to abstain and stay this action pending resolution of related state court proceedings. The district court granted the motion to abstain and stayed the action, concluding that it had broad discretion to decline to grant declaratory relief under the abstention doctrine articulated in Brillhart v. Excess Insurance Co. of Am. and Wilton v. Steven Falls Co. The Fourth Circuit vacated the stay order, holding (1) Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, which permits a federal court to abstain only in “exceptional” circumstances, properly governed the abstention question in this action; and (2) because the district court did not apply the correct abstention standard, the case is remanded for a determination of whether “exceptional” circumstances are present in this case.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on April 17, 2015.