Heir To Former Belward Farm Owner Excited For Progress In Hopkins Case
Tim Newell is excited for the opportunity to proceed with the case on his aunt's farm after a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge denied Johns Hopkins University's motion to dismiss.
When Tim Newell first received word of a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge’s decision to deny Johns Hopkins University’s motion to dismiss he couldn’t wait to share the news.
“[The community] is pretty thrilled,” Newell told Patch. “Everybody’s been more or less ‘it’s about time that someone listened.’ If you talk to the county and everybody else it’s always been sided towards having this project done no matter what the issues are and here we finally feel some indication that somebody listened.”
On Friday, March 11, Judge Katherine D. Savage issued a 24-page decision denying JHU’s motion to dismiss a breach of donor intent lawsuit filed by Newell, the lead plaintiff for the heirs to former Belward Farm owner Elizabeth Banks, with the intent of preventing the university from proceeding with plans to build a 4.7 million-square-foot commercial science park on the property.
Savage noted the dramatic increase in Johns Hopkins’ scale of the project were cause for concern.
“The Court finds that the progression in the scale of development from 1990, through 1997 and cumulating in the 2011 Plan presents a controversy ripe for adjudication,” Savage wrote. “Without reaching the merits of the case, the Court finds that a conflict indicating imminent and inevitable litigation exists.”
University Spokeswoman Robin Ferrier told Patch late Monday that while Hopkins is disappointed in Judge Savage’s ruling, it does not reflect the entirety of the case.
“Friday's ruling was on a preliminary motion and is not dispositive of the case at all,” Ferrier wrote in an email. “We are disappointed that the judge could not rule at this time that the contract and deed are unambiguous and do not restrict height, scale or density and do not prevent the university from leasing to outside tenants. We are confident, however, that the court will come to that conclusion as the case continues.”
Newell however praised the judge for taking her time in issuing her decision, noting that she would have been vilified by the community for granting the motion and potentially vilified by Hopkins, the county, and the state for ruling against the university.
The ruling came more than five weeks after the initial hearing on JHU’s motion to dismiss.
“She was in a difficult situation and I could sense as time went on, I really understood why she took her time doing this,” Newell said. “She wanted to make sure she got it right. She gave it a lot of detail and thoughtful consideration and I’m very grateful for that.”
Hopkins now has 15 days to respond to the original complaint before the court sets up a schedule for completion of a discovery period and other events in the case, Newell’s attorney David Brown said, adding it’s a process that will likely take months to complete.
The discovery period allows both sides to request documents relating to the 1989 agreement and request depositions from people involved. Brown said he believes there are still some people who remain employed by the university who were involved in the case.
One key witness not currently employed by Hopkins is John Dearden. Dearden spearheaded the Belward project and openly supported Newell’s case against the university. Brown said despite his status as a former employee he would still contact Dearden through deposition. He also said he’s intrigued by Hopkins’ record of the deal.
“One of the things we’ll be looking for in discovery is hopefully a more complete set of records in Hopkins’ files regarding the events in 1988 and 1989 that led to the agreement because, frankly, Mrs. Banks did not have much of a file and the lawyer she had is dead,” Brown said, adding, “I don’t think his records are at all accessible to us.”