AP&S Successfully Defends Charitable Organizations in $60 Million Litigation
In Dauray v. Mee, 109 A.3d 832 (R.I. 2015), a case that has significant implications for Rhode Island non-profits and charitable donors, AP&S attorneys Joseph Avanzato and Nicole J. Benjamin successfully represented a number of charitable entities against claims of undue influence and fraud involving charitable donations of $60 million. On behalf of their clients, AP&S prevailed in the matter, from Probate Court to Superior Court to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and thereby preserved the entire $60 million in charitable donations for their clients.
An individual donor had made charitable donations to AP&S’ clients, in the approximate amount of $60 million, via will, lifetime gifts and charitable trusts. After the donor’s death, one of the donor’s nieces challenged the donor’s will, alleging that the donor had been unduly influenced by AP&S’ clients. After judgment entered in the Probate Court, the niece appealed to the Rhode Island Superior Court. Thereafter, the niece instituted two additional lawsuits in Superior Court. Through her three lawsuits, the niece asserted claims of fraud and undue influence as to the donor’s charitable gifts (via will, lifetime gifts and charitable trusts).
In the Superior Court, the parties engaged in extensive discovery, including 30 depositions across the country. Ultimately, on behalf of their clients, AP&S moved for summary judgment in all three cases, arguing, among other things, that the plaintiff lacked standing to challenge any of the donor’s charitable gifts. Through a summary judgment hearing spanning three days, AP&S demonstrated that the donor’s intent was that all the assets be given to charity and that under the terms of the will and charitable trusts, only a charity could receive the assets. On the basis of the donor’s demonstrated intent and the terms of the controlling documents, AP&S argued that the plaintiff, who was an individual and not a charity, had no standing to challenge the donor’s charitable donations. The Superior Court agreed and entered judgment in favor of AP&S’ clients on the basis that the plaintiff lacked standing to assert any of her claims or to challenge any of the charitable donations.
The plaintiff appealed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. After full briefing and oral argument on each of the three cases, the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment that the plaintiff lacked standing.
The Supreme Court’s affirmance brought six years of contentious litigation to conclusion in favor of AP&S’ clients, whose $60 million in charitable donations were successfully protected. AP&S’ victory on behalf of its clients demonstrates the importance of identifying a successful legal strategy, advancing that strategy through protracted discovery, and effectively presenting the legal and factual arguments to the courts to obtain the clients’ desired outcome.