Ex parte Huntingdon College, et al.Annotate this Case
Consolidated appellate proceedings involved a dispute between the trustees and beneficiaries of the Bellingrath-Morse Foundation Trust ("the Trust"). In appellate case no. SC-2023-0001, beneficiaries of the Trust, Rhodes College, Huntingdon College, and Stillman College, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court Court to vacate its November 23, 2022, order granting the trustees of the Trust relief from a final judgment pursuant to Rule 60 (b)(5), Ala.R.Civ.P. In appellate case no. SC-2023-0011, the beneficiaries appealed the same circuit-court order granting Rule 60(b)(5) relief to the trustees. Walter Bellingrath (deceased) established the charitable Trust in 1950. Bellingrath contributed to the Trust, including the Bellingrath Gardens ("the Gardens"). The trustees and beneficiaries disagreed as to whether the Trust indenture contemplated a subsidy of the Gardens by the Trust: the trustees believed the Gardens were a "purpose" of the Trust requiring perpetual funding; the beneficiaries believed the Gardens were merely an asset of the Trust and subject to closure if not profitable. A 1981 agreement limited the payments or distributions by the Trust for the support of the Gardens. In a 2003 amendment to the 1981 agreement, the beneficiaries gave up their right to request the trustees seek court instructions concerning whether the Gardens should be open or not, and the trustees agreed that they would not increase the payments for the support of the Gardens above 20% of the total annual distribution amount without the unanimous consent of the beneficiaries. In 2017, the trustees contended their ability to maintain the Gardens had been substantially impaired by the funding restraints of the 1981 agreement and the 2003 amendment, and they sought instructions on how the existing funding agreement regarding the Gardens should be revised. After the Alabama Supreme Court released its opinion in "Ex parte Huntingdon College," the trustees immediately moved the circuit court seeking relief from the 2003 judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b)(5), alleging that new circumstances had arisen since the 2003 judgment was entered, rendering prospective application of the 2003 judgment inequitable. In appellate case no. SC-2023-0001, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the beneficiaries demonstrated a clear legal right to a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to vacate its November 2022, Rule 60(b) order. In appellate case no. SC-2023-0011, the Court dismissed the appeal filed by the beneficiaries concerning that same order.