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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Univ. says plaintiffs have no standing in motion to dismiss Rose Art lawsuit

Published: September 18, 2009
Section: Front Page

<I>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Brandeis University filed a motion Tuesday to dismiss the lawsuit brought against it by three Rose Art Museum benefactors.

The motion argues that the suit should be dismissed because the plaintiffs have no standing to file such a suit.

Rose Art Museum benefactors and Board of Overseers members Jonathan Lee, Meryl Rose, and Lois Foster filed a lawsuit against the university to prevent the close of the museum and the sale of its art in late July. The suit was a response to President Reinharz’s spring announcement that the university’s Board of Trustees had authorized the closure of the museum and the sale of its art.

The motion to dismiss the suit, written by Brandeis’ hired outside counsel and former Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly, cites precedent in the Massachusetts Legislature and courts to argue that donors do not have standing “to enforce their vision of how a charitable organization should operate.”

Reilly’s motion sees the plaintiffs’ suit primarily as one looking out for the “public interest,” and therefore stipulates that “the attorney general alone has standing to represent the public interest, and she has asserted no claim against Brandeis.”

Reilly himself reiterated this point in a telephone interview with The Hoot, and said “the state of Massachusetts has no right to give the plaintiffs the broad type of relief they seek.”

The three Rose benefactors would only be eligible to sue the university if they believed their particular donation had been used in a way that violated restrictions previously put on the donation.

Donors have standing “to pursue redress for the wrongs the individuals allegedly suffered” via lawsuit, the motion says, but they do not have “the right to interfere with the operation of a charity.”

According to the motion, the plaintiffs only have the right to sue for the return of their own individual gifts—not for control of the museum. Meryl Rose’s total lifetime giving to the university is $45,000, and Lee’s total lifetime giving is $43,880, the motion reads.

The motion further argues that while the three plaintiffs claim they have standing in the Probate Court as members of the Rose Art Museum’s Board of Overseers, because the board is “an advisory body without any governing power or fiduciary responsibilities, [the] plaintiff’s membership in that body affords them no standing to challenge the actions of the fiduciary body of Brandeis (and therefore the Rose).”

Lee said the university’s motion comes as “no surprise” to him. As for Reilly’s argument that the plaintiffs have no standing, Lee said “Of course, that’s something we thought about before we filed the suit, so I do not agree with what the motion says, and I think the motion will lose.”

According to the motion, only the university’s Board of Trustees, a fiduciary body, has the authority to make decisions about the financial needs of the university as a whole.

The motion to dismiss, as well as the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction will be heard before the Suffolk Probate Court on Oct. 13.