The Grafton County (NH) Superior Court has granted Dartmouth College’s request for summary judgment in the case of Brooks et al. v. Trustees of Dartmouth College, dismissing a challenge to the governance reforms adopted by the College’s Board of Trustees in 2007. In a 12-page decision dated January 8, Judge Timothy J. Vaughan ruled that the seven alumni plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the action and could not pursue claims that had already been dismissed in an earlier lawsuit.
Dartmouth General Counsel Robert B. Donin said: “Dartmouth is pleased that the Grafton County Superior Court has granted our motion for summary judgment. The court has rejected this meritless lawsuit against the College orchestrated by John MacGovern and the Hanover Institute, who also drove the case dismissed with prejudice in 2008. We urge the plaintiffs not to appeal this decision, which would only continue to drain resources at a time when the College is addressing the impact of the prolonged economic downturn.”
In essence, the court found that the plaintiffs’ claims for breach of contract were barred by the legal doctrine of res judicata (which prohibits the re-litigation of claims) because of the dismissal with prejudice of the earlier lawsuit filed by the College’s Association of Alumni executive committee in October 2007. Moreover, the court found that the plaintiffs lacked standing as “third-party beneficiaries” under an alleged contract between the Association of Alumni and the College.
The Brooks case was the second challenge to the September 2007 decision by the College’s Board of Trustees to expand the Board from 18 to 26 trustees. In June 2008, the first case was dismissed with prejudice by the Grafton County Superior Court at the request of the College and a newly elected Association of Alumni executive committee that was committed to ending the lawsuit. The eleven executive committee members were elected by a 60 percent majority, with a record 38 percent of Dartmouth alumni voting in the election.
The Brooks lawsuit was filed on November 18, 2008 by seven individual alumni. Like the previous case, the new suit alleged that in 1891 the College entered into a contract with the Association of Alumni requiring the College to seat an equal number of trustees nominated and elected by the Board (Charter Trustees) and trustees nominated by alumni and elected by the Board (Alumni Trustees). Dartmouth denied the existence of such a contract and asserted that the authority to determine the size and composition of the governing board, in the best interests of the College, rested with the Board of Trustees.
A copy of the court’s order is available on the Dartmouth Governance web site.