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Evans v. Abney

    Brief Fact Summary. Land was conveyed to a city, but the grantor wanted it used exclusively by white people. His intention could not be fulfilled, so the land reverted to his heirs.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When the general charitable intent of a testator cannot be carried out, the charitable trust will fail and revert to the grantor or his heirs.

    Facts. A United States Senator willed property in trust to his home city for the purpose of creating a public park exclusively for the use of white people. His will contained a large amount of information regarding his desire to have separate accommodations for whites and blacks. The park could not continue to operate on a discriminatory basis. The Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that the grantor’s intention had become impossible to fulfill and so the trust failed and the trust property reverted to the Senator’s heirs. Several black citizens (Petitioners) sought to have the park integrated by using the doctrine of cy pres.

    Issue. Should the doctrine of cy pres be applied to prevent a trust from failing, when the general intent of the testator is to create a racially segregated park?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed.
    Georgia cities and towns are authorized to accept devises of property for the establishment of parks and to hold the property thus received in charitable trust for the class of persons named by the testator.
    At the time the Senator made his trust, racial restrictions were allowed to be included and enforced. However, the Supreme Court of the United States held that segregated parks were unconstitutional. Evans v. Newton, 382 U.S. 296 (1966). This meant that the purpose of the trust failed.
    The doctrine of cy pres allows a court to carry out the general charitable intent of the testator where this intent might otherwise be thwarted by the impossibility of the particular plan or scheme provided by the testator. But occasionally, the doctrine cannot be applied because the testator had only a particular purpose in creating the trust, and if that purpose failed, the testator would want the whole trust to fail.
    The Senator made it clear in his will that only whites were to use the park. Racial separation was an inseparable part of the testator’s intent, so cy pres cannot be used.

    Dissent.
    Justice William O. Douglas. Returning the property to the Senator’s heirs will not necessarily achieve the racial segregation that the Senator desired. When any buildings are constructed on that land, minorities must be allowed inside. There is no constitutional way to assure this property will not be used by blacks.
    Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Under the Equal Protection Clause, a state may not close down a public facility solely to avoid its duty to desegregate that facility. The closing of the park sends a clear message of community involvement in racial discrimination. Though the majority claims that no state action is involved in closing the park, there are actually three types of state action involved: 1) There is state action whenever a state enters into an arrangement that creates a private right to compel or enforce the reversion of a public facility; 2) state action exists when a court enforces a racial restriction to prevent parties of different races from dealing with one another and 3) state action exists when a state singles out racial discrimination for particular encouragement, and thereby gives it a special preferred status in the law, even though the state does not itself impose or compel segregation.

    Discussion. Racial restrictions will not be enforced by the courts. The doctrine of cy pres cannot be used to modify a trust when it is clear that the testator had the intent of promoting racial segregation.


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