Sweet Briar Closure Case Continues to Evolve in Courts


The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that a lower court erred in a previous decision concerning Sweet Briar College, and has sent the case back for further argument.

The private woman's college is set to close this summer due to what its president referred to as "insurmountable financial challenges" in March. A number of advocates have been working to keep the school open through lawsuits, fundraisers and protests.

The ruling applies to the case brought on by Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer, who had pushed to stop the closure by arguing that doing so would violate the terms of the will on which the college was founded, and that charitable funds had been misused. The case was appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court after a request for a temporary injunction was not fully granted by a circuit court, writes Susan Svrluga for The Washington Post.

In response to the appeal, justices maintain that Circuit Court Judge James Updike ruled in error when he concluded that the law of trusts did not apply to a corporation. The Supreme Court continued to say that laws governing trusts may sometimes apply to corporations such as Sweet Briar, which is a non-stock corporation. The case will now return to the circuit court.

"The parties are engaged in widely publicized, closed-door negotiations. The legal issues are still evolving, and the factual record underpinning the parties' allegations and defenses has yet to be fully developed. In short, the controversy of the College's scheduled closing is far from over, and all agree that the ultimate merits of the controversy are not, at least for today, squarely before this Court," wrote the justices.

A temporary injunction offers a court order before a trial has taken place. Advocates pushing to keep the school open feel the movements are important, as they are concerned that the school could close before any trials are able to begin.

Bowyer is requesting injunctions that would prevent the college from closing, allowing the school to operate as normal for the upcoming school year. In addition, she is asking the court to have a special fiduciary take over the college, writes Jessie Pounds for The News and Advance.

So far only an injunction has been issued that temporarily keeps the college from using specified donations for activities related to closing, which was granted on April 15. That injunction was set to expire next week, although the Supreme Court has since extended the injunction to June 24.

06 15, 2015
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