It's rare, given the standard, for an appellate court to reverse the factual findings of a district judge made during a bench trial.
It's even rarer when the subject matter is an arcane dispute that dates back to Napoleon times.
First, get a load of the parties:
Plaintiff-Appellant Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (Plaintiff Order) is a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church that undertakes charitable work internationally. Defendant-Appellee The Florida Priory of the Knights Hospitallers of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta, The Ecumenical Order (The Florida Priory) is also a charitable organization, having an expressly ecumenical, rather than Catholic, association.Then there's the factual history, recounted like it came from a Dan Brown novel:
According to these witnesses, Plaintiff Order was founded in Jerusalem in the eleventh century. (D.E. 144, 37:11–12.) It relocated to the City of Acre and later to the island of Rhodes, where it was known as the Knights of Rhodes. (Id. at 37:12–16.) After spending about two hundred years on the island of Rhodes, the group located in Malta (becoming the Order of Malta), which had been ceded for the Order’s use by Emperor Charles V. (Id. at 37:16–18.).....Around 1797 or 1798, the Order of Malta was suffering financial hardship and sought monetary support from Czar Paul I of Russia. (Id. at 108:20–109:3.) Two knights went to Russia seeking to obtain the property of the former Polish priory, and out of this visit came an agreement to create a Catholic-affiliated Russian priory. (Id. at 110:25–111:9.)Ok, I've had enough.
In 1798, Napoleon expelled the Order of Malta and its knights from the island of Malta, and the organization relocated to present-day Italy. (D.E. 144, 37:17–19; D.E. 145, 111:13–25.)2 The Order of Malta’s Grand Master at the time, Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim, wrote to Czar Paul I for support after this expulsion. (D.E. 145, 111:12–18.) Czar Paul I, in response to the request for assistance and “for reasons best known to himself,” created a non-Catholic order for the non-Catholic members of his court. (Id. at 112:6–10.) What happened next forms the crux of both parties’ historical arguments.
Listen, nobody loves history more than I do, but if tune into the History Channel it's because I'm interested in ancient sex or Bigfoot.
(Actually, it's just a matter of time before those two concepts converge).