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Successful Appeal Reversing the Probate Court’s Decision that Plaintiff Lacked Standing to Ensure that the Settlor’s Instructions Were Followed

In Le Gassick v. University of Michigan, Warner’s appellate team of Conor Dugan and Laura Morris successfully represented Trevor Le Gassick in his capacity as trustee in a lawsuit against the University of Michigan.

Professor Le Gassick, a member of the University of Michigan’s Near Eastern Studies Department, served as trustee of the trust established by his late colleague, Professor James Bellamy, to endow a professorship in a specific field of study. After Le Gassick distributed a $3.5 million gift to the University, it used the money to fund a purpose contrary to the settlor’s intent. 

Le Gassick brought suit against the university to attempt to effectuate that intent. The probate court held that Professor Le Gassick did not have standing to bring suit.

On appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed. In an unanimous, published decision, the Court of Appeals, interpreting a never-before-interpreted provision of the Michigan Trust Code, held that Le Gassick had standing and that a contrary holding would creative perverse incentives. It stated that “a settlor would have little incentive to create and distribute to a charitable trust with specific instructions where no enforcement mechanism was available to protect the settlor’s intent.” 

The University filed for leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court but Warner was able to convince the Supreme Court to deny leave.