Arent Fox Secures Summary Judgment for Johns Hopkins in Belward Farm Case
NOVEMBER 2, 2012 – WASHINGTON, DC – On October 25, a Montgomery County judge ruled in favor of Johns Hopkins University in a dispute over the interpretation of certain deed restrictions applicable to land near Gaithersburg, Maryland. James H. Hulme, former chair of Arent Fox’s Litigation Department, represented Johns Hopkins, leading a team that included Corporate partner Richard Gale and Litigation associates Leah C. Montesano and Rachel M. Witriol.
In 1989, Elizabeth Beall Banks and two siblings sold 140 acres of land called Belward Farm to the university. The transaction represented both a sale and a gift, as the $5 million paid by Johns Hopkins was less than the overall value of the farm at the time. The property became known as the “Belward Research Campus of The Johns Hopkins University.” Thirty acres of the property were developed in the late 1990s as a life sciences research park.
Several years ago, the property was rezoned as part of Montgomery County’s plans to create a life sciences center in the area. Johns Hopkins announced plans that would provide for up to 4.5 million square feet of research and development space for a multitude of uses that include Johns Hopkins, government, and private industry.
In the lawsuit, the heirs of Miss Banks and her siblings argued that documents were ambiguous and that Johns Hopkins proposed use and development was inconsistent with the restrictions in the deed. In response, Arent Fox argued that the deed and contract were not ambiguous and that there was no basis for the additional limitations and restrictions claimed by the plaintiffs. Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Ronald B. Rubin agreed and ruled in a summary judgment that the documents were not ambiguous. The court also ruled that the extrinsic evidence did not support the restrictions claimed by the plaintiffs.
Mr. Hulme said “We are gratified that the court agreed with our argument that the contract, which was negotiated in 1988 with counsel assisting each side, was not ambiguous. And it is significant that the court also accepted our argument that the evidence simply did not support the development restrictions that the plaintiffs claimed in the case.”
In a statement the school said: “Johns Hopkins is, and always will be, grateful to Miss Banks and her relatives for the gift of their property. We have lived up to, and will always live up to, our agreement with them.”
Mr. Hulme has more than 30 years of experience handling jury and bench cases involving real estate, intellectual property, securities, commercial, insurance, bankruptcy, environmental, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Gale has a broad-based business transactional practice focusing on mergers and acquisitions and joint ventures. Ms. Montesano and Ms. Witriol focus on complex commercial and intellectual property matters, particularly cases involving trademark and copyright disputes.