CHEYENNE (AP) — A judge heard arguments Tuesday on whether to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a woman who gave her family’s ranch to two university foundations and now accuses them of not honoring the intent of her gift.
Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell said he would rule later on a request by the University of Wyoming Foundation and Colorado State University Research Foundation to dismiss the suit brought by Amy Davis of Denver.
The schools want to sell the Y Cross Ranch, a 50,000-acre property between Cheyenne and Laramie that was in Davis’ family more than 50 years. She claims the schools haven’t fully honored her intent for the ranch to be used for hands-on agriculture education.
University officials say the working cattle ranch hasn’t been a good classroom setting and that proceeds from selling it could exceed $20 million and help fund scholarships in agriculture education.
Davis’ lawsuit followed a decade of record donations to the University of Wyoming and could establish a precedent for handling future gifts and for the way wealthy UW alumni go about giving to the school.
Davis relinquished all control over the Y Cross when she donated it to the foundations in 1997 and now lacks standing to sue, the foundations contend.
Her donation was a gift that can only be overseen for use in the public interest by Wyoming’s attorney general, former Gov. Mike Sullivan argued as one of the attorneys for the foundations.
Davis’ attorneys argue that her donation was not merely a gift but also a charitable trust governed by a binding memorandum of agreement that dictates how the ranch is supposed to be used.
A charitable trust is different from a gift such as money that somebody drops into a Salvation Army kettle then walks off with no expectation to influence how the money may be used, Davis’ attorney Steve Miller told Judge Campbell.
“This case was legitimately brought by Amy Davis,” Miller said.
The gift agreement doesn’t specify that the donation was a charitable trust, countered Sullivan.
“There is no evidence of a trust anywhere in this record,” Sullivan said.
The gift agreement allowed the foundations to sell the ranch after 14 years. The foundations began preparing to sell last year and intended to reach a deal by sealed bid earlier this month. However, the lawsuit by Davis, filed in September, has suspended those plans.
The lawsuit by Davis and her Courtenay C. and Lucy Patten Davis Foundation seeks to revoke the gift agreement. University officials say they don’t want to try selling the ranch with its legal status in limbo.
The foundations’ argument that only the attorney general can address any public concerns about use of the Y Cross prompted Davis’ attorneys on Nov. 13 to refile an amended lawsuit with Attorney General Greg Phillips added as a defendant.
“The timing has me a little off-guard hearing arguments today,” Campbell remarked in court.
“We think it’s done properly,” Miller told the judge. “If issues have to be revisited in some fashion, we’re prepared to do that.”
Phillips has not responded to the lawsuit but sent a deputy attorney general, Marty Hardsocg, to listen to the proceedings. Hardsocg declined to comment after the hearing.
Source: Associated Press
Posted by Haylie Shipp