Evans v. Abney Case Brief

Why is the case important?

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.

Facts of the case

In 1911, U.S. Senator A. O. Bacon conveyed land to the city of Macon, Georgia through a testamentary trust for the purpose of providing a park for white persons only. The city operated the park in that manner, but after passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, people of all races were permitted to use the park. The managers of the park attempted to have the city removed as the trustee because it could no longer legally enforce racial segregation. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of African American citizens who intervened, holding that the public nature of the park required that it be treated as a public institution subject to the Fourteenth Amendment regardless of who owned the park. The trustees of Bacon’s estate then moved for a ruling that the trust was unenforceable, because racial segregation was no longer permitted, so the property should revert to Bacon’s heirs. The trail court granted the motion, holding that racial segregation was an integral part of the trust, so the court could not simply amend the trust. The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed.

Question

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?

Answer

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.

Conclusion

The United States Supreme Court upheld that decision. The doctrine of cy pres, as codified at Ga. Code Ann. §§ 108-202, 113-815 (1959), did not permit the state supreme court to simply delete the racially restrictive clauses when the testator explicitly indicated that this limitation was an essential and indispensable part of his plan for the land. The trust failed and reverted to the heirs under Ga. Code Ann. § 108-106(4) (1959).

  • Case Brief: 1970
  • Petitioner: Reverend E.S. Evans et al.
  • Respondent: Guyton G. Abney et al.
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 396 US 435 (1970)
Argued: Nov 12 – 13, 1969
Decided: Jan 26, 1970
Granted May 5, 1969