Wednesday, July 2, 2008

stayin' alive?

Via The Future of Newcomb College listserv:

Breaking News from the Associated Press - Court gives Newcomb College new life

03:03 PM CDT on Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Associated Press

A Louisiana Supreme Court ruling Tuesday -- exactly two years after Tulane University merged its undergraduate men's and women's college -- kept alive a lawsuit attempting to revive the H. Sophie Newcomb College for Women.

The plaintiffs -- two descendants of Josephine Newcomb's sister -- say Tulane violated the terms of Newcomb's will by merging its seven undergraduate colleges into Newcomb-Tulane College as part of reorganization after Hurricane Katrina.

Those included Newcomb College, which opened in 1887 as the nation's first degree-granting college for women.

In a complicated 5-2 ruling based partly on Napoleonic law and commentary from that time, the high court ruled that "would-be heirs" can go to court to enforce conditions of a will -- though it refrained from ruling on whether Newcomb's will had any conditions.

But it also upheld a lower court ruling that, as things stand, plaintiffs Parma Howard of Greenville, N.C., and Jane Smith of Columbia, S.C., do not have any right to sue the university.

It said they have not proved that they are Newcomb's heirs -- but sent the case back to district court to let them rewrite their lawsuit to try to show that they are.

"I'm so pleased," said Renee Seblatnigg, president of a Newcomb alumnae group created to support and publicize the lawsuit and promote the return of Newcomb as a separate college.

Daniel Caruso, who represents Howard and Smith, and Phillip Wittmann, who represents Tulane, did not immediately return calls for comment. Caruso was on vacation, his office said.

Seblatnigg said the ruling is historic. "My understanding is, the court has ruled for the first time in Louisiana history that would-be heirs have standing to enforce a testator's will."

Chief Justice Pascal Calogero wrote that he agrees with the majority opi nion but also thinks that third-party beneficiaries who don't claim to be heirs may also file a lawsuit to make beneficiaries of wills stick to the terms of a donation.

Two other justices dissented for different reasons.

Justice John L. Weimer said he would have upheld the lower court ruling that Newcomb's will did not put any strings on her donation.

Justice Bernette Johnson wrote that although Howard and Smith will be allowed to rewrite their lawsuit, the majority ruling denies them any chance to have a hearing and present evidence about whether they are Newcomb's heirs.

She said that should be the subject of hearings before any other developments in the case.

A group of Newcomb students and alumnae took the university to court in 2006 to try to stop the merger, but a federal judge ruled a few weeks later that they had no legal right to do so. That ruling was not appealed.

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