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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Judge denies motion to dismiss

Published: October 16, 2009
Section: Front Page

A Suffolk Probate Court judge Tuesday issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Brandeis University from selling any art from the Rose Art Museum donated by three plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the university yesterday after denying the university’s motion to dismiss the suit.

Though the injunction is applicable to works of art donated by Jonathan Lee, Meryl Rose, and Lois Foster, or the estates they represent, only the Lee estate has donated artwork, meaning the injunction prohibits the university from selling 500 of the 7,813 works of art in the museum.

Associate Justice Jeremy Stahlin also denied the university’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs had standing to sue the university as individual donors, but not in the public interest, and that he would have to deliberate whether the plaintiffs and all members of the Board of Overseers of the museum would have standing as members of the board.

The plaintiffs filed suit against the university on July 27 in order to prevent the university from closing the museum and selling its art as a means of alleviating its budget shortfall.

“There are personal rights the plaintiffs have that may or may not be successful, but they do have standing,” Stahlin said.

Stahlin agreed with the defense, which argued the plaintiffs had no right to file a suit in the public interest, as that is under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General’s office.

The plaintiffs had originally filed a motion for a preliminary injunction preventing the sale of the entire collection of the museum, but following an announcement by the Attorney General’s office that it would investigate the university’s decision to sell art, the plaintiffs revised their motion.

Tensions were high in Court Room 1 before the hearing and during a 30 minute recess.

Of the 13 people who attended the hearing, not including attorneys, all but two sat behind the plaintiff’s lawyer.

At the motion hearing, Brandeis counsel Tom Reilly accused the plaintiffs of suing because “they just don’t like the way [the museum] is being run.”

Reilly urged Stahlin to consider the Rose as “just another academic department” within the university that answers to the Provost.

“If this were the philosophy department instead of an art museum and they wanted to run it independently, you would have to dismiss the case,” Reilly said.

Counsel for the plaintiffs Terry Dangel countered that argument, saying “this is not just another department. This is a museum.”

Reilly also told the court that “those items [given by the plaintiffs] are just not going to be sold.”

“Other items, when that day comes, we’ll make sure to tell [the attorney general’s office],” he said.

Stahlin set a trial date for June 29 at 11 a.m.. Between now and the trial date, each legal team will move into the “discovery” part of the legal process in which both sides are required to disclose documents pertinent to the suit, regardless of whether the documents help or hurt their case.

Reilly indicated yesterday that he would want to limit the scope of discovery to documents pertaining only to gifts given by the three plaintiffs, and Stahlin set a scope of discovery hearing for Dec. 2 at 3 p.m.