Monday, July 16, 2012
The NonProfit Times reports that another restricted gift case is winding its way through the courts - now, a trial date has been set in a dispute over land transferred to Johns Hopkins University in a part sale/part gift transaction by Elizabeth Beall Banks (John Timothy Newell, et. al v. Johns Hopkins University). Miss Banks, who died in 2005, was a land advocate who was concerned about the potential development of her property, known as the Belwar Farm, a 108 acre tract along Interstate 270. In 1989, she sold the property at a deeply discounted price to Johns Hopkins, subject to the condition that only 30 acres of the land could be developed for “. . . agricultural, academic, research and development, delivery of health and medical care and services or related purposes only.” According to The Washington Post, this language was contained in the two page deed that conveyed the property - it does not appear that there was another gift instrument. The family contends that the planned science center development is much denser and more commercial than what Miss Banks intended, and is suing have these wishes enforced.
Is it just me, or are there more of these cases around these days, where a donor's full wishes are not incorporated into the gift instrument but are later asserted as conditions to be respected? (Garth Brooks, I'm looking at you!) It would certainly have been possible to draft something that incorporated a current development plan for Belwar Farm or something similar into the terms of the gift instrument - it would seem to me that donors would want the certainty, and that charities would like to stay out of court. Is it just that UPMIFA's definition of a record - which doesn't include oral representations but does include ancillary marketing material and correspondence - hasn't caught up with these cases or otherwise doesn't apply? Do we think UPMIFA will help or is this trend (if indeed it is a trend) a side effect of institutions and people scrambling for dollars wherever then can find them in a down economy? Or is it just bad drafting coupled with charities wanting to maintain as much vagueness as possible?