You are on page 1of 15

VIRGINIA

:
IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF AMHERST COUNTY
JESSICA CAMPBELL, BRITTANY
BEHRENS, DONNA BEHRENS, JOHN
BEHRENS, ALEXIA REDICK
BARTLETT, LELIA DUNNING,
ANDREW C. BENJAMIN, JANICE I.
BENJAMIN, MAKAYLA B. BENJAMIN
and CATHERINE PEEK,

Case No. CL15009390

Plaintiffs,
v.
SWEET BRIAR INSTITUTE, and
JAMES F. JONES, JR.,
INDIVIDUALLY and as INTERIM
PRESIDENT OF SWEET BRIAR
INSTITUTE,
Defendants.

COMPLAINT
The Plaintiffs, Jessica Campbell, Brittany Behrens, Donna Behrens, Alexia Redick
Bartlett, Lelia Dunning, Andrew C. Benjamin, Janice I. Benjamin, Makayla B. Benjamin and
Catherine Peek, by and through counsel, file this Complaint against the Sweet Briar Institute and
James Jones, individually and in his capacity as Interim President of the Sweet Briar Institute.
Plaintiffs
1.

Plaintiff Jessica Campbell is an adult individual residing at 230 Cochran Lane,

Nitro, WV 25143. Ms. Campbell is an alumna of Sweet Briar College.
2.

Plaintiff Brittany Behrens is an adult individual residing at 8 Southport Dr,

Howell, NJ 07731. Ms. Behrens is a current Sweet Briar student.
3.

Plaintiff Donna Behrens is an adult individual residing at 8 Southport Dr, Howell,

NJ 07731. Ms. Behrens is the parent of a current Sweet Briar student.

4.

Plaintiff John Behrens is an adult individual residing at 8 Southport Dr, Howell,

NJ 07731. Mr. Behrens is the parent of a current Sweet Briar student.
5.

Plaintiff Alexia Redick Bartlett is an adult individual. Ms. Bartlett is an alumna

of Sweet Briar College.
6.

Plaintiff Lelia Dunning is an adult individual. Ms. Dunning is a current Sweet

Briar student.
7.

Plaintiff Andrew C. Benjamin is an adult individual. Mr. Benjamin is the parent

of a current Sweet Briar student.
8.

Plaintiff Janice I. Benjamin is an adult individual. Mrs. Benjamin is the parent of

a current Sweet Briar student.
9.

Plaintiff Makayla B. Benjamin is an adult individual. Ms. Benjamin is a current

Sweet Briar student.
10.

Plaintiff Catherine Peek is an adult individual having a place of business at 11 W

Main Street, Berryville, VA 22611. Ms. Peek is an alumna of Sweet Briar College.
Defendants
11.

Defendant, Sweet Briar Institute, is a Virginia non-profit corporation, having a

place of business at 134 Chapel Road, Sweet Briar, VA 24595.
12.

Defendant, James F. Jones, Jr. is allegedly the interim president of the Sweet

Briar Institute. He maintains a place of business at 134 Chapel Road, Sweet Briar, VA 24595.
Jurisdiction & Standing
13.

This Court has the jurisdiction and authority to grant injunctions pursuant to Va.

Code Ann. § 8.01-620 (2015).
14.

The Plaintiffs have standing to bring this lawsuit because the Plaintiffs all face

immediate and irreparable harm if the actions of the Defendants are not enjoined. See Zehner v.

2

Alexander, Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, Case No. 56 of 1979,
O.C.D., Vol. 89, Page 262 (students and alumni had standing to challenge decision to close
Wilson College); Galton v. College of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 70 Misc. 2d 12 (N.Y. Co. Sup.
Ct. 1972) (students and alumni had standing to challenge decision to close College of
Pharmaceutical Sciences in the City of New York).
Background
15.

The Sweet Briar Institute operates a women's liberal arts college located in Sweet

Briar, Virginia, about 12 miles north of Lynchburg, Virginia. The college is known as Sweet
Briar College.
16.

The college’s campus is located on 3,250 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge

Mountains, on the former estate of the college's founder, Indiana Fletcher Williams.
17.

Upon her death in 1900, Ms. Williams bequeathed her land and funds to the

formation of the Sweet Briar Institute, known today as Sweet Briar College. The college began
doing business six years later, in 1906.
18.

Over the last century, thousands of persons have donated time and money to build

Sweet Briar into a significant academic institution. Today, the college is known as one of the
"Seven Sisters of the South" -- the south's equivalent of the Seven Sisters of the Ivy League.
19.

Sweet Briar presently has approximately 650 students, studying on campus and at

a study-abroad location in France. The college is accredited by the Southern Association of
Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine
Arts, Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts in Teaching, and Master of Education.
20.

The college has a large, historically significant campus.

The campus was

designed by Ralph Adams Cram, an architect who also worked on the campuses of Princeton

3

University and West Point. Twenty-one of Sweet Briar's thirty buildings are listed on the
National Register of Historic Places.
21.

Sweet Briar has also acquired a significant library and art collection. The library

consists of 230,000 volumes and 350,000 microforms, housed in a newly-renovated colonialstyle structure dating from the early 20th century.
22.

On March 3, 2015, Sweet Briar’s interim President, James Jones, announced that

Sweet Briar would close at the end of the summer session, citing "insurmountable financial
challenges".
23.

Defendant Jones’ claim of “insurmountable financial challenges” does not stand

up under scrutiny.
24.

During the past two years, Jones and his predecessor, Jo Ellen Parker, grossly

mismanaged the college’s finances and business operations.
25.

Sweet Briar enjoyed some of the highest admissions in its own history, before

Jones and Parker left the Dean of Admissions post vacant for over two years, starting in 2012.
26.

Jones also failed to fill key positions relating to alumnae relations and

development at the college.
27.

Meanwhile, Jones and Parker spent extravagantly, for example, allocating

$1 million to a recent “strategic plan.” The college could ill afford such expensive contracts,
when similar services were available for a fraction of the cost. According to one recent board
member, Richard E. Leslie, the college’s spending exceeded levels that are illegal in other states.
28.

Jones’ claim that all-womens education is anachronistic and out-of-date also does

not bear up under scrutiny. Other all-women’s institutions currently enjoy some of their highest
admissions numbers in recent history. This is because of recent studies showing the benefits of

4

education at womens’ colleges: women’s college grads make up more than 20% of women in
Congress, and 33% of the women on Fortune 1000 boards.
29.

Despite Jones' mismanagement and possible fraud, Sweet Briar has sufficient

funds to continue operation of the college:
a.

For six of the past seven years, Sweet Briar’s operating expenses
have exceeded operating revenues.

b.

At this time, Sweet Briar continues to have an endowment of
$84 million. This is equal to $129,000 per student, which is far
higher than the endowment for many other stronger universities:
College
Springfield College
Northeastern
Drexel University
Villanova
Boston University

Endowment/Student
$14,154
$22,492
$23,788
$35,475
$37,402

c.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014, Sweet Briar increased its
assets from $160.6 million to $163.9 million, a gain of $3.3
million. This includes land, buildings, investments, everything.

d.

For that same fiscal year (2014), Sweet Briar’s liabilities decreased
from $30.7 million to $29.5 million, a reduction of $1.2 million.

e.

Over the longer term, Sweet Briar’s books and records look
equally healthy. Between June 30, 2009 and June 30, 2014, the
college’s assets fell from $172 million to $163.9 million, a drop of
$8.1 million. However, the school’s liabilities fell at an even faster
rate — from $50.5 million in 2009 to $29.5 million now. This is a
drop of $21 million, meaning that the college’s financial position
improved by $12.9 million during this five year period.

f.

During this five year period, the college’s endowment increased
from $74.3 million to $84 million today, an increase of nearly ten
million dollars.

g.

Sweet Briar has sufficient funds to pay for a restructuring, as
required by the cy pres doctrine. $25 million of the endowment is
presently unrestricted. This is sufficient funds to pay for the
college’s operating loss, while the college either finds a new model
for women’s education or as a co-ed college.

5

h.

30.

Any operating loss would be further offset by increased donations
from alumnae. In the last month, the alumnae have pledged over
$3 million towards the continued operation of the college.

Defendants Jones and Sweet Briar have not made a good faith effort to comply

with their contractual obligations to operate Sweet Briar as a college.
31.

Virginia, as in most states, follows the legal doctrine of “cy près” whenever there

is a proposed change to a charitable organization, as in this case.
32.

According to the cy pres doctrine, whenever the original objective of the charity

becomes “impossible, impracticable, or illegal to perform,” a court must amend the terms of the
charitable trust as closely as possible to the original intention of the testator or settlor to prevent
the trust from failing. Campbell v. Board of Trustees, 220 Va. 516, 524, 260 S.E.2d 204, 209,
1979 Va. LEXIS 291, 17 (Va. 1979); see also Va. Code Ann. § 64.2-731 (2015).
33.

By proposing to close, Defendants Jones and Sweet Briar have violated the cy

pres doctrine in the following particulars:
a)

By failing to utilize the land of Indiana Fletcher Williams for purposes of
women’s education;

b)

By failing to advise Sweet Briar alumnae of the college’s intent to close,
and to seek funds from alumnae to close the funding gap;

c)

By failing to hire a Dean of Admissions for the school since 2012;

d)

By failing to take advantage of significant overseas demand for American
education by marketing the school in Asia as an all-women’s college (as
Barnard has done);

e)

By failing to hire a Director of Alumnae for several years, or to actively
maintain the college’s alumnae program;

f)

By entering into fiscally imprudent contracts in excess of fair market
value;

g)

By mis-stating the financial distress of the college in their efforts to close
the college;

h)

By refusing to consider the donated services of national experts to
restructure the college’s debt and expenditures;
6

34.

i)

By refusing to consider the possibility of a chapter 11 bankruptcy case to
eliminate all or a portion of the college’s debt;

j)

By failing to consider the possibility of converting to a co-educational
campus;

k)

By failing to fully explore the possibility of offering joint classes with
other colleges;

l)

By refusing the offer of another local school to jointly offer online course
offerings;

m)

By failing to explore the possibility of raising additional revenue by
farming a portion of the college’s land.

Defendants Jones and Sweet Briar are not even proposing to act in good faith. On

March 30, 2015, the faculty’s attorney, Thomas Lauria, offered to help Sweet Briar restructure
its debt on a pro bono basis. Attorney Lauria is well-qualified to do so. He is the global head of
restructuring at the international law firm of White & Case. During the course of his thirty year
career, Lauria has helped restructure over $100 billion of debt. On or about March 31, 2015,
Defendants Jones and Sweet Briar refused attorney Lauria’s generous offer, showing that they
have no intent to comply with their obligations under state law. *
COUNT I
BREACH OF CONTRACT
Brittany Behrens, Makayla Benjamin, and Lelia Dunning
v. Sweet Briar and James F. Jones, Jr.,
as Interim President of the Sweet Briar Institute
35.

The Plaintiffs incorporate by reference the allegations in the foregoing paragraphs

as though fully set forth herein.
36.

Plaintiffs Brittany Behrens, Makayla Benjamin, and Lelia Dunning are all current

Sweet Briar students.
37.

When the Plaintiffs accepted Sweet Briar's offers of admission, they entered into a

contract with Sweet Briar. The express and implied terms of such contract were as follows:

7

38.

a)

Each Plaintiff would pay tuition and attend classes.

b)

Sweet Briar would provide a four-year college education to the student,
resulting an accredited four-year college degree.

c)

During the four year period, each student would have the opportunity to
live on the Sweet Briar campus, to participate in extra-curricular activities
on the campus, to experience college life as a freshman, sophomore, junior
and senior, and to mentor younger students at the college.

Sweet Briar routinely used oral and written communications, as well as the

College's 114-year reputation, to promote the institution and its mission: providing a liberal arts
education to its students.
39.

Additional terms of the contract, to the extent relevant, are found within the

various official Sweet Briar publications, including promotional materials, the honor code, the
student handbook, the academic catalog, correspondence between Sweet Briar and the Plaintiffs,
and the college's policies and regulations.
40.

The Plaintiffs relied on such statements in accepting the College's offers of

admission.
41.

Defendant Sweet Briar has anticipatorily breached the contract by announcing

that it will close at the end of the end of August 2015. By doing so, Sweet Briar will cause the
Plaintiff students the following damages:
a)

The students will not receive a four-year liberal arts degree from Sweet
Briar College;

b)

The students will incur the cost and time expense of applying to
alternative colleges, if they wish to graduate from college;

c)

Some or all of the students will lose college credits because their
alternative colleges will not accept all of the course credits earned by the
students at Sweet Briar;

d)

Some or all of the students will incur the additional cost and time delay of
having to earn new course credits from alternative colleges;

8

42.

e)

Some or all of the students have been unable to locate replacement
colleges that would provide the same education at the same cost as Sweet
Briar;

f)

The students will forever lose the opportunity to attend alumnae events at
a functioning college campus at Sweet Briar.

Monetary damages will not make the Plaintiff students whole, because the

students will lose months or years of their lives having to earn new college credits at alternative
colleges. The Plaintiff students are therefore seeking injunctive relief in connection with this
count.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs Brittany Behrens, Makayla Benjamin, and Lelia Dunning
respectfully request that this Honorable Court grant preliminary and permanent injunctions
against Defendant Sweet Briar, requiring the college to comply in full with the terms of its
contract with such Plaintiffs.
COUNT II
BREACH OF CONTRACT
Michelle Fabian, Donna Behrens and John Behrens
v. Sweet Briar and James F. Jones, Jr.,
as Interim President of the Sweet Briar Institute
43.

The Plaintiffs incorporate by reference the allegations in the foregoing paragraphs

as though fully set forth herein.
44.

Plaintiffs Michelle Fabian, Donna Behrens and John Behrens are all parents of

present Sweet Briar students, and alumnae of the college.
45.

Each of the Plaintiff parents has entered into a written contract with Sweet Briar

to obtain a four-year college education for their daughters. The express and implied terms of
such contract were as follows:
a)

The parents would pay tuition.

b)

The children of the Plaintiff parents would attend classes at Sweet Briar.

9

46.

c)

Sweet Briar would provide a four-year college education to the daughter
students, resulting an accredited four-year college degree.

d)

During the four year period, each student would have the opportunity to
live on the Sweet Briar campus, to participate in extra-curricular activities
on the campus, to experience college life as a freshman, sophomore, junior
and senior, and to mentor younger students at the college.

Sweet Briar routinely used oral and written communications, as well as the

College's 114-year reputation, to promote the institution and its mission: providing a liberal arts
education to its students.
47.

Additional terms of the contract, to the extent relevant, are found within the

various official Sweet Briar publications, including promotional materials, the honor code, the
student handbook, the academic catalog, alumnae information materials, correspondence
between Sweet Briar and the Plaintiffs, and the college's policies and regulations.
48.

The Plaintiff parents relied on such statements in agreeing to enter into contracts

with Sweet Briar.
49.

Defendant Sweet Briar has anticipatorily breached the contract by announcing

that it will close at the end of the end of August 2015. By doing so, Sweet Briar will cause the
Plaintiff students the following damages:
a)

The children of the Plaintiff parents will not receive a four-year liberal arts
degree from Sweet Briar College;

b)

Plaintiff parents will incur the additional cost of paying for applications to
alternative colleges, if their children wish to graduate from college;

c)

Some or all of the children of the parents will lose college credits because
their alternative colleges will not accept all of the course credits earned by
the students at Sweet Briar;

d)

If not all of the Sweet Briar course credits are not accepted by alternative
colleges, the parents will incur the additional cost of having to pay for new
course credits from alternative colleges;

e)

Some or all of the children of the parents have been unable to locate
replacement colleges that would provide the same education at the same
cost as Sweet Briar;
10

f)
50.

The children of the Plaintiff parents will forever lose the opportunity to
attend alumnae events at a functioning college campus at Sweet Briar.

Monetary damages will not make the Plaintiff parents whole, because of the

reputational and experiential nature of the Plaintiffs' losses. The Plaintiff parents are therefore
seeking injunctive relief in connection with this count.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs Michelle Fabian, Donna Behrens and John Behrens
respectfully request that this Honorable Court grant preliminary and permanent injunctions
against Defendant Sweet Briar, requiring the college to comply in full with the terms of its
contract with such Plaintiffs.
COUNT III
BREACH OF CONTRACT
Jessica Campbell, Alexia Redick Bartlett,
and Catherine Peek v. Sweet Briar and James F. Jones, Jr.,
as Interim President of the Sweet Briar Institute
51.

The Plaintiffs incorporate by reference the allegations in the foregoing paragraphs

as though fully set forth herein.
52.

The Plaintiffs Jessica Campbell, Alexia Redick Bartlett, and Catherine Peek are

all former Sweet Briar students, and alumnae of the college.
53.

When the Plaintiffs accepted Sweet Briar's offers of admission, they entered into a

contract with Sweet Briar. The express and implied terms of such contract were as follows:
a)

Each Plaintiff would pay tuition and attend classes.

b)

Sweet Briar would provide a four-year college education to the student,
resulting an accredited four-year college degree.

c)

During the four year period, each student would have the opportunity to
live on the Sweet Briar campus, to participate in extra-curricular activities
on the campus, to experience college life as a freshman, sophomore, junior
and senior, and to mentor younger students at the college.

11

54.

d)

After graduation, the students would be permitted to return to a working
college campus for alumnae events.

e)

After graduation, the students would be permitted to mentor future Sweet
Briar applicants and students.

Sweet Briar routinely used oral and written communications, as well as the

College's 114-year reputation, to promote the institution and its mission: providing a liberal arts
education to its students.
55.

Additional terms of the contract, to the extent relevant, are found within the

various official Sweet Briar publications, including promotional materials, the honor code, the
student handbook, the academic catalog, alumnae information materials, correspondence
between Sweet Briar and the Plaintiffs, and the college's policies and regulations.
56.

The Plaintiffs relied on such statements in accepting the College's offers of

admission.
57.

Defendant Sweet Briar has anticipatorily breached the contract by announcing

that it will close at the end of the end of August 2015. By doing so, Sweet Briar will cause the
Plaintiff students the following damages:

58.

a)

Closing the college will permanently damage the reputational value of the
Plaintiffs' four-year liberal arts degrees from Sweet Briar;

b)

The alumnae will forever lose the opportunity to attend alumnae events at
a functioning college campus at Sweet Briar;

c)

The alumnae will forever lose the opportunity to mentor future Sweet
Briar applicants and students.

Monetary damages will not make the Plaintiff alumnae whole, because of the

reputational and experiential nature of the Plaintiffs' losses. The Plaintiff alumnae are therefore
seeking injunctive relief in connection with this count.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs Jessica Campbell, Alexia Redick Bartlett, and Catherine Peek
respectfully request that this Honorable Court grant preliminary and permanent injunctions

12

against Defendant Sweet Briar, requiring the college to comply in full with the terms of its
contract with such Plaintiffs.
COUNT IV
TORTIOUS INTERFERENCE
WITH CONTRACT
All Plaintiffs v. James F. Jones, Jr., Individually
59.

The Plaintiffs incorporate by reference the allegations in the foregoing paragraphs

as though fully set forth herein.
60.

Defendant Jones has intentionally interfered with the Plaintiffs' above-described

contracts with the Sweet Briar Institute.
61.

Virginia law recognizes a cause of action against a person who intentionally

interferes with an existing or prospective contract.
62.

Monetary damages are insufficient to compensate the Plaintiffs for such

interference, due to the reputational loss and experiential nature of the Plaintiffs' losses. The
Plaintiff are therefore seeking injunctive relief in connection with this count.
WHEREFORE, THE Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Court grant a permanent
injunction enjoining Defendant Jones from taking any further action to interfere with the
Plaintiffs' contracts with Sweet Briar.

13

COUNT V
PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION
All Plaintiffs v. Sweet Briar and James F. Jones, Jr.,
as Interim President of the Sweet Briar Institute
63.

The Plaintiffs incorporate by reference the allegations in the foregoing paragraphs

as though fully set forth herein.
64.

The Plaintiffs respectfully request that this Honorable Court grant a preliminary

injunction requiring Defendants Jones and Sweet Briar to comply with the terms of their
contract, and continue to operate Sweet Briar as a college while this case is pending.
65.

Defendants Jones and Sweet Briar have already taken material steps to shut down

the college. If a preliminary injunction is not granted, the Plaintiffs may not be able to obtain
full and effective relief from this lawsuit.
WHEREFORE, for the reasons set forth above, the Plaintiffs respectfully request that the
Court grant a preliminary injunction, preventing Defendants Jones and Sweet Briar from taking
any further efforts to sell assets or shut down, pending the outcome of this case.
COUNT VI
PERMANENT INJUNCTION
All Plaintiffs v. Sweet Briar and James F. Jones, Jr.,
as Interim President of the Sweet Briar Institute
66.

The Plaintiffs incorporate by reference the allegations in the foregoing paragraphs

as though fully set forth herein.
67.

The Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Court grant a permanent injunction

requiring Defendants Jones and Sweet Briar to continue operating as a college.
WHEREFORE, the Plaintiffs respectfully request that this Honorable Court (a) grant a
permanent injunction, prohibiting Sweet Briar College from taking any further steps to terminate

14

operations, and (b) enter an order authorizing and directing Sweet Briar College to continue
operations as an educational institution.
Respectfully submitted,

By: /s/ Elliott Schuchardt
Elliott J. Schuchardt
VA Bar # 86721
SCHUCHARDT LAW FIRM
541 Redbud Street
Winchester, VA 22603
Phone: (412) 414-5138
E-mail: elliott016@gmail.com
Counsel for the Plaintiffs

15