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Giveaway House group: Foes not backed by law

The group that filed a lawsuit over control of the 40-year-old Havre charity Community Giveaway House has put its position on the line, saying the defendants’ arguments are not supported by evidence or law.

A group chaired by Sue Markley filed a lawsuit against a group headed by Roberta Beute and Sheila Forshee, the granddaughter of Ruth Nystrom who helped found the charity around 1970 to distribute donated items to people who needed the items.

Nystrom and co-founder Ann Friesen were two of the original board directors when Nystrom incorporated the charity in 1989.

Markley’s board has asked the court to grant their complaint in a summary judgment based on the arguments and evidence already presented.

The defendants have filed arguments against that request and contested the claims in the lawsuit.

The 2012 corporate report listed both Forshee and Markley as officers but not voting directors of the board.

The directors listed in 2012 formed the board in February, including appointing Markley as a director and as president and removing Forshee from her position as secretary.

Forshee’s group then formed in March, including appointing Forshee as a director and as secretary.

Markley’s group filed their lawsuit April 19, asking the court to rule that Forshee’s board has no authority to act on behalf of the charity and to order Forshee’s board to give Markley’s board all of the charity’s property. It also asks Forshee’s board be held liable for malice for its actions.

In their responses, the defendants said the three directors who appointed Markley’s board had vacated their positions by January of this year by failing to attend four consecutive meetings of the board, which the bylaws say means the position will be deemed vacant. The defendants also said Markley had resigned her position in January.

The responses also said that — in a situation that appears to be without precedent in Montana case law, where all directors have vacated their positions — it is appropriate that Forshee, was involved in reconstituting the board and appointing new officers for the family-based charity.

In their response, the defendants say those arguments are contrary to Montana law and “common sense.”

The plaintiffs argue that the defendants provide no evidence in the affidavits that the 2012 directors had missed four of the previous annual meetings, the only meetings required under the bylaws set by Nystrom. It adds that Beute’s stating the directors had missed meetings was without merit because she had not attended any of those meetings, as she was not part of the charity's board when they would have occurred.

The plaintiffs argue that while Forshee would have knowledge, she presents no evidence to back up her statement.

Furthermore, the plaintiffs argue, Montana law states that only board directors can remove other directors or officers for failing to attend meetings. As the directors did not remove themselves from their positions, they still were directors, the plaintiffs said.

“This situation does not appear in Montana case law because it should not be capable of occurring under the law,” the plaintiff’s reply brief said.

The argument by the defendants that Forshee’s wishes should be given extra weight because the Giveaway House is “a charitable enterprise of the Nystrom family of which Defendant Sheila Forshee is a member” “is without legal precedence and contrary to common sense,” the plaintiff’s brief said.

Nystrom chose to incorporate the charity, rather than putting it in a form that allows family members to maintain control, the plaintiffs’ response said. That means the corporation must follow the laws governing corporations, the response said.

For reasons including the law set to govern corporations and the lack of evidence presented to back up the defendants’ claims, the brief said, the plaintiffs again ask the court to issue a summary judgement in favor of the plaintiffs.


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