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Schofield v. Superior Court of Fresno County

November 18, 2010

JOHN-DAVID SCHOFIELD ET AL., PETITIONERS
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF FRESNO COUNTY, RESPONDENT;
DIOCESE OF SAN JOAQUIN ET AL., REAL PARTIES IN INTEREST.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Fresno County. Adolfo M. Corona, Judge. (Super. Ct. No. 08CECG01425AMC)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ardaiz, P.J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This matter comes before us on a petition for writ of mandate after the trial court granted a motion for summary adjudication. We conclude plaintiffs' first cause of action presents a purely ecclesiastical controversy not justiciable by civil courts. Accordingly, the trial court erred in granting plaintiffs' motion for summary adjudication on that cause of action.

I. Facts and Procedural History

1. Standard of Review of Factual Issues

On review of an order granting summary adjudication, we apply the same standard of review applicable on appeal from a grant of summary judgment. (See Haney v. Aramark Uniform Services, Inc. (2004) 121 Cal.App.4th 623, 631.) Accordingly, "[b]ecause this case comes before us after the trial court granted a motion for summary [adjudication], we take the facts from the record that was before the trial court when it ruled on that motion. [Citation.] "'We review the trial court's decision de novo, considering all the evidence set forth in the moving and opposing papers except that to which objections were made and sustained.'" [Citation.] We liberally construe the evidence in support of the party opposing summary judgment and resolve doubts concerning the evidence in favor of that party. [Citation.]' [Citation.]" (Wilson v. 21st Century Ins. Co. (2007) 42 Cal.4th 713, 716-717.)

2. The Underlying Dispute

The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (commonly known as the Episcopal Church) is "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion." The Anglican Communion is a worldwide organization of dioceses, provinces, and regional churches under the ecclesiastical leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is Primate of the Church of England.

The various regional Anglican churches, such as the Episcopal Church, have a significant latitude in adopting forms and modes of worship that they deem appropriate to local conditions. Developments in the Episcopal Church have not always been reflected by similar changes in other regional Anglican churches. The nature of disparate views is reflected by petitioner John-David Schofield in a 2007 address to a meeting of diocesan leaders, for "twenty years and more we have watched The Episcopal Church lose its way," relegating Holy Scripture to mere historical documents, appropriating powers to the central governing body of the church that the body had never before claimed, and ultimately making "unilateral decisions about theology, sexuality, and ordination potentially cutting itself off from the Anglican Communion." As a result of these ecclesiastical differences with the leadership of the Episcopal Church, Schofield, as Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno, and other local church leaders, began to take steps to attempt to withdraw the diocese from the Episcopal Church. We describe these steps in some detail:

a. Consecration of Bishop

The constitution of the Episcopal Church provides that the bishop of a diocese "shall be chosen agreeably to rules prescribed" by the diocese, acting through its annual "convention." However, no person selected by a diocese shall be ordained as bishop except upon consent of a majority of "the Bishops of this Church exercising jurisdiction" and a majority of the governing committees of the dioceses making up the Episcopal Church. (If the diocese selects a bishop within 120 days before a scheduled convocation of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, "the consent of the House of Deputies" of that convention shall be required in place of the consent of the governing committees.) Finally, the constitution provides that "[n]o one shall be ordained and consecrated Bishop by fewer than three Bishops."

In conformity with these requirements of the national constitution, the original governing documents of the Diocese of San Joaquin provided for election of a new bishop at an annual or special meeting of the diocesan convention. Ordination and consecration of the bishop-elect required consent of the governing committees (or the House of Deputies) and of the Bishops of the Episcopal Church. In addition, ordination and consecration were to be performed by "no fewer than three Bishops of the Episcopal Church."

In 2006, the governing documents of the Diocese of San Joaquin were amended pursuant to resolutions at the 2004 and 2005 annual conventions of the diocese. Omitted from the amended procedures was any requirement that the local choice of bishop be approved by the national church. Omitted from the amended procedures was any requirement that the bishop be ordained and consecrated by at least three Episcopal Bishops. Instead, if the bishop-elect was "already consecrated a Bishop in the Apostolic Succession," the bishop-elect would become bishop upon the bishop-elect's acceptance of election. If not already so ...


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