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Charlie Brown Heritage Foundation v. Columbia Brazoria Independent School District

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

May 3, 2018




         Before the Court are the Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Columbia-Brazoria Independent School District (“CBISD”) (Dkt. 73) and Defendants City of West Columbia (“City”) and Debbie Sutherland (“Sutherland”) (collectively “City Defendants”) (Dkt. 74). Both motions are supplemented by Docket Entries 126 and 127. After considering the law, the evidence, and the record of this case as a whole, the Court GRANTS CBISD and City Defendants' motions for summary judgment as to the federal causes of action asserted against them.

         Factual Background

         In 2007, the Board of Trustees of CBISD voted to donate the school and land known as The Charlie Brown School (“Property”) to a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation called the Charlie Brown Heritage Foundation (“CB”). Charlie Brown was a former slave who had given the land to CBISD. The donation was performed pursuant to Section 11.1541 of the Texas Education Code. CBISD's Board of Trustees published a Resolution and Order for Donation of a Historical School Site. The parties then executed a Donation Deed Without Warranty (“Deed”) that contained several conditions, restrictions, and reservations. According to these, the Property was conveyed “as is, ” it could only be used for a non-profit and public purpose to further the historical significance and preservation of the Charlie Brown School, and a reversionary clause stated that “[o]n condition that the Grantee fails or discontinues to use the Subject Property solely for non-profit, public purpose to further the historical significance of and preservation of the improvements and purposes related thereto … the Subject Property shall revert to the Grantor herein.”[1]

         Sutherland is the City Manager of West Columbia. In 2015, she sent a letter to CBISD's superintendent informing him that the Property had fallen into a state of neglect. The letter further stated that the IRS had revoked CB's non-profit status. Sutherland urged CBISD to investigate these potential violations of the Deed. Several months later, CBISD sent CB a letter stating that CB had failed to maintain the Property and its tax-exempt status. Because the Deed's conditions had been violated, according to CBISD's letter, title to the Property had reverted to CBISD.

         CB filed a Petition in state court containing causes of action for trespass to try title and declaratory judgment. Both causes of action sought to prevent reverter. While that action was still pending, CB filed the instant suit in this Court. CB's Complaint asserted a number of state and federal claims against CBISD and City Defendants.

         Procedural Background

         CB amended its Complaint three times amid a series of motions to dismiss filed by CBISD and City Defendants. At docket call, the Court denied CB's motion for summary judgment, and granted in part and denied in part CBISD's motion for summary judgment. The Court took the remainder of CBISD and City Defendants' motions for summary judgment under advisement. The confusing and imprecise nature of CB's pleadings subsequently led the Court to order CB to submit a list clarifying the remaining causes of action, their sources of law, related paragraphs in the Fourth Amended Complaint providing factual allegations, and the applicable Defendants for each cause of action. The document CB submitted provided little clarity regarding the factual and legal basis of its claims and raised even more questions about the validity of those claims.[2] The Court then ordered CB to file a more comprehensible list. But CB's effort fell short yet again.[3] As a result, the Court granted leave for CBISD and City Defendants to supplement their motions for summary judgment based on the remaining causes of action.[4]

         Based on CB's list of the remaining causes of action, and taking into account the Court's previous rulings, the following live causes of action remain:

• 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for conspiracy
• Equal Protection claim under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
• Texas state-law breach of contract claim
• Texas state-law tort claims (including invasion of privacy, tortious interference with a business relationship, defamation, retaliation, and failure to provide appropriate services)

         The Court ordered CB to file a response to CBISD and City Defendants' supplements to motions for summary judgment by June 27, 2017.[5] At 11:17 P.M. on June 27, Veronica L. Davis (“Davis”), an attorney who is also the president of the Foundation, filed a response on behalf of CB.[6] The response contained no exhibits. Davis later described this initial response as a “draft” that was “filed in error.”[7] According to Davis, the response contained “factual inaccuracies” and information that was “not supported by case law.”[8] Despite allegedly having filed the document in error, Davis notified neither the Court nor Defendants of the mistake. CBISD and City Defendants timely filed replies to CB's response on July 5. Then, fifteen days later on July 20-more than three weeks after the initial response was filed-Davis filed a “corrected” response to the supplements to motions for summary judgment.[9] The new response is 60 pages long-some 35 pages longer than permitted by the Court's local rules.[10] It contains nearly 150 pages of previously unseen exhibits as well as new arguments.[11]

         CB's responses-both the initial and corrected versions-can only be described as nebulous, meandering, and conclusory.[12] Even trying to view the established facts in the light most favorable to CB, it is nearly impossible for the Court ...

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