Ga. Supreme Court upholds Clark Atlanta lawsuit over Morris Brown land

Clark Atlanta University can move forward with a lawsuit claiming that it owns parts of Morris Brown College that were sold to the city of Atlanta economic development agency two years ago.

The unanimous decision from the Georgia Supreme Court, released Monday, is part of a long-running dispute over whether three Morris Brown properties that were included when the college sold off most of its 37-acre campus property in 2014 should have reverted back to Clark Atlanta.

Morris Brown filed for bankruptcy in 2012, facing $30 million in debts. To regain its financial standing and academic accreditation, the school sold most of the campus properties to Invest Atlanta and Friendship Baptist Church.

But Clark Atlanta sued, claiming that when Morris Brown went into bankruptcy, ownership of the three properties should have reverted to Clark Atlanta under the requirements of a 1940 deed. The deed required the land be used for educational purposes.

“As noted, the restriction provides not only that the property be used for ‘educational purposes’ but then lists the fields of study which qualify as such ‘educational purposes,’ ” reads Monday’s opinion from the Court. And the reverting of the property to Clark Atlanta “is triggered when grantee Morris Brown College itself ceases to use the property ‘for the particular educational purposes set forth’ in the deed.”

“Consequently, in the present circumstances, sale of the property to Invest Atlanta does not qualify as Morris Brown College’s ‘use’ of the property as contemplated in the deed,” the opinion says.

Last year, a Fulton County Superior Court denied a motion from Invest Atlanta to dismiss the lawsuit. The agency appealed, arguing that the lower court failed to consider the “broad and liberal” definition of “use” under Georgia law.