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Georgia Supreme Court rules in favor of Clark Atlanta and against Invest Atlanta in Morris Brown land sale

Gaines Hall

Gaines Hall - as it stands today - a year after it caught fire (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta

The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Clark Atlanta University over ownership of former Morris Brown College land – virtually exhausting Invest Atlanta’s legal options on the case.

The Georgia Supreme Court reaffirmed last year’s ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals, which agreed that Clark Atlanta had legal right to the Morris Brown property.

Lance Dunnings, general counsel for Clark Atlanta, said Tuesday the Supreme Court’s decision “should end the legal dispute concerning the ownership of the property.”

Gaines Hall

Historic Gaines Hall after the fire. (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Invest Atlanta, the economic development arm for the City of Atlanta, and CAU have been fighting over the ownership of 17 acres of land that the city bought from Morris Brown in June, 2014.

In all, Invest Atlanta and Friendship Baptist Church paid a total of $14.6 million to Morris Brown College, which was facing bankruptcy, to buy more than 30 acres of land along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard just blocks west of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Seventeen of those acres – more than half of the land that the City had acquired – was subject to a “reversionary clause” that CAU had that dates back to 1940.

At the time Invest Atlanta acquired the land, then-Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed thought he could win a legal challenge against CAU over the reversionary rights.

But Invest Atlanta and he City have lost every legal ruling on the case.

In short, that means Invest Atlanta paid for land it doesn’t own, and the litigation also cost the City and Clark-Atlanta millions of dollars in legal bills.

Back in 1940, Atlanta University transferred the property to Morris Brown College with a reversionary clause that stated the property would revert back to Atlanta University if Morris Brown College were to no longer use it for educational purposes.

On July 1, 1988, Clark College and Atlanta University merged to become Clark Atlanta University, the institution that inherited the rights to the property.

gaines hall

Pedestrian bridge that links Gaines Hall with Fountain Hall. (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

The land includes some of the most important historic buildings in the Westside, including Gaines Hall, which caught fire during the period the Invest Atlanta claimed to own the property.

Matt Fogt, Invest Atlanta’s spokesman, said he could not talk about the situation because of pending litigation, and that it could go back to Superior Court.

Dunnings, however, reaffirmed that Invest Atlanta has run out of legal options.

“The Superior Court previously entered a final order and declared that CAU ‘is the rightful owner of the property,’” Dunnings wrote in an email. “The Court of Appeals affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling, and the Supreme Court just denied Invest Atlanta’s request to review the decision again. Accordingly, the only issue remaining for the trial court to decide is CAU’s motion requesting that Invest Atlanta pay CAU’s attorney fees.”

2018-4-16 Denial of Cert Petition

Georgia Supreme Court CAU Invest Atlanta

Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling against Invest Atlanta and in favor of Clark-Atlanta

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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  1. Chris Johnston April 18, 2018 3:19 pm

    Another part of former Mayor Reed’s legacy crumbles, with more parts to come.Report


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