Dismissal effort pending in York County museum lawsuit

adouglas@heraldonline.comAugust 24, 2013 

Culture and Heritage Foundation leaders are trying for a second time to have a judge dismiss York County’s lawsuit against their organization.

Problems between county and foundation officials have been ongoing for years. After months of negotiations to try to settle the dispute, York County sued the foundation on June 28.

The foundation filed a new request for dismissal Friday morning with the York County clerk of court’s office.

Attorney Jim Sheedy, representing the foundation, said Friday’s move was a “procedural requirement.”

About two weeks ago, Judge Jack Kimball, the county’s master-in-equity, denied the foundation’s first request that the case be thrown out.

Kimball also denied York County’s request that the foundation’s legal counsel be disqualified from service and its request for a temporary injunction against the foundation’s land holdings and assets.

York County’s lawsuit claims the foundation has refused to release financial records related to spending and fundraising during the time the organization was designated as supporting the county’s public museums.

The lawsuit also alleges that the foundation breached its own bylaws last May when it decided to change its official mission through the S.C. Secretary of State’s Office.

Ten months after the change, the foundation told supporters in a letter that it intends to use its fundraising activities to support other groups in South Carolina. Before, the foundation only supported York County’s museums.

York County’s museum commission’s chair submitted an affidavit in the case earlier this month saying that the “foundation has already distributed funds to other organizations that it should have been holding for the benefit of the commission.”

The museum commission has seven members, including its chair, and two ex-officio members – all appointed by the York County Council.

The Culture and Heritage foundation is a separate nonprofit organization, which entered an agreement with the county and the commission to exclusively support the commission until the County Council terminated its agreement with the foundation in 2011.

That decision to end the partnership between the foundation and the county directly impacts who has rights to hundreds of acres donated by Jane Spratt McColl in 1998, according to court documents filed by the foundation.

About 60 acres of the nearly 400 acres donated has been sold for development.

Court documents show that York County officials expected that the McColl land would eventually be deeded over to the county.

To bolster its claims to the land, the foundation cites an affidavit from McColl that states she gave the land to the foundation and supports its plan of how to use it.

With the foundation’s motion to dismiss the suit pending, York County plans to move ahead with the discovery of evidence stage of the court battle, including seeking the foundation’s financial records, its attorney said.

In a court order filed Thursday, Kimball said it would be inappropriate to dismiss or issue a summary judgment without “further development of the facts.”

York County has had no chance for discovery to answer the foundation’s defense, he said, and the foundation has yet to file an answer to the county’s lawsuit.

In denying York County’s request for a temporary injunction two weeks ago, Kimball says the county did not show “a likelihood of success” in its case and that each side’s claims need to be further developed.

The county can try again to disqualify the foundation’s attorney from service, he said, but Sheedy would need enough time to make a formal response to that request.

Earlier this month, York County filed paperwork the day before the hearing, asking Kimball to disqualify Sheedy.

Sheedy has a conflict of interest because he once represented the county’s museum commission and former museum director Van Shields, York County’s written motion claims.

One of his duties, the motion states, was to advise commission members on issues related to the foundation which are “substantially related” to the dispute that has landed the two parties in court.

While he was paid by York County, Sheedy told Kimball he never represented his client on issues related to the current lawsuit.

The county made payments, he told the judge, to his firm on behalf of the foundation, who was his client then and now.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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