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Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts Foundation dropped from Pike-Fletcher-Terry House lawsuit

by Joseph Flaherty | May 25, 2023 at 4:50 a.m.
The Pike-Fletcher-Terry House, a historic Greek Revival mansion on East Seventh Street in Little Rock, was deeded to the city in 1964 by Adolphine Fletcher Terry and Mary Fletcher Drennan. Their heirs say the conditions of the deed have been breached, with its condition deteriorating as it has fallen into disuse. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Cara Connors at a hearing on Wednesday granted a motion to dismiss the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts Foundation from litigation over the condition of the Pike-Fletcher-Terry House but denied a motion to dismiss the museum itself as a defendant.

The lawsuit was originally filed in October 2021 by six heirs of two sisters, Adolphine Fletcher Terry and Mary Fletcher Drennan.

Terry and Drennan in 1964 granted the historic Greek Revival mansion on East Seventh Street to the city of Little Rock by deed for the use and benefit of what was then known as the Arkansas Arts Center.

In addition to the museum and the foundation, the complaint filed on behalf of the heirs named the city of Little Rock.

In February 2022, then-Circuit Judge Alice Gray granted a motion to dismiss filed on behalf of the foundation while granting in part and denying in part the museum's motion to dismiss.

Gray gave the plaintiffs a window of time to file an amended complaint and their attorney, Richard H. Mays, did shortly thereafter.

The second amended complaint in the litigation, filed by Mays in March 2022, claimed that the city, museum and foundation had breached the conditions of the deed based on the deterioration of the mansion and its lack of use.

It asked the judge to transfer the title to the property back to the plaintiffs and grant them costs from the city associated with renovating and repairing the property in an amount to be determined at trial.

The complaint made a similar request for expenses with regard to the museum and foundation.

Additionally, the plaintiffs requested an accounting of an endowment fund tied to the property as well as the possible repayment of any funds not spent on the property's maintenance or operations.

Connors took over the case after Gray retired.

On Wednesday, Mays along with attorney John Tull, who represents the museum and the museum's foundation, made arguments before the judge on the pending motions filed on behalf of the museum and foundation, respectively, to dismiss the latest complaint.

Also present in the courtroom was Shawn Overton, a Little Rock deputy city attorney.

Tull suggested the second amended complaint reiterated claims that were dismissed by the since-retired Gray.

He argued there could be no claim against the foundation for breach of contract because the foundation, which was formed in 1972, did not exist at the time of the deed to the city. The foundation is a nonprofit corporation distinct from the museum, Tull said.

The plaintiffs lacked standing with regard to the endowment, he argued.

Mays suggested Tull was ignoring the events after the foundation was formed. He referred to the fact that Mary Fletcher Drennan's "surrender of life estate" was executed in 1977, at which point the foundation had existed for several years.

There is a great deal of intermingling between the museum and the foundation, Mays argued.

Connors ultimately indicated she agreed with Tull on the relationship between the museum and the foundation -- she said the two appeared to be separate.

The judge granted the motion to dismiss the foundation as a defendant without prejudice, meaning claims could be filed against the foundation again in the future.

Tull indicated he would prepare formal orders on both motions to be signed by the judge.

Print Headline: Judge retains art museum in historic home lawsuit, frees foundation


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