CHEYENNE, Wyoming — A former Wyoming governor and an attorney for a Denver philanthropist argued Tuesday before the Wyoming Supreme Court over the fate of a ranch owned by two university foundations.
The main question before the justices was whether Amy Davis has the right to contest how the foundations have managed the Y Cross Ranch, between Cheyenne and Laramie.
Davis donated the 50,000-acre ranch to the Colorado State University Research Foundation and University of Wyoming Foundation in 1997. She says the foundations haven't fully honored her intent to use the working ranch as a field classroom for agriculture students.
Former Gov. Mike Sullivan, representing the foundations, says Davis' agreement with the university foundations doesn't allow for her to intervene.
Davis sued last year. The gift agreement authorized the foundations to sell the Y Cross after 14 years. The foundations began preparing to do so in 2011 but Davis' lawsuit led them to suspend an auction and take the property off the market.
A district court judge dismissed Davis' lawsuit in April, ruling that she did not expressly create a charitable trust and therefore did not retain a say over the ranch. She appealed.
On Tuesday, her attorney, Steve Miller, told the justices that Davis has standing to intervene because the gift agreement established an implied charitable trust.
Under the gift agreement, the Y Cross was to be managed as a working cattle ranch and profits from the operation would help fund scholarships and provide internship opportunities for agriculture students at Colorado State and the University of Wyoming.
The ranch also was supposed to be a "real-world, working lab" for those students, Miller said.
The ranch hasn't provided nearly as many educational opportunities for students as Davis envisioned.
"There are dormitories sitting there that have been underused by both universities," he said.
Sullivan argued that Davis doesn't have standing. He suggested the whole matter is simpler than Davis and her attorney have made it out to be.
The gift agreement contains the word "gift" 13 times, Sullivan told the justices.
"Not once is the word 'trust' used," he said. "You don't imply a trust when the documents are clear what the transaction is."
He said the donation was a restricted gift made in part to get a federal tax break. Because it was a gift, Davis and her foundation relinquished control over the ranch, he said.
Davis also objects to the ranch being sold. Her lawsuit seeks to have the Y Cross managed according to her original intent.
University officials defend selling the Y Cross as consistent with Davis' gift agreement. The proceeds could establish an endowment to fund agriculture scholarships, they say.
The justices will rule in writing later.