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U.S. v. MCELVENNY

March 31, 2003

UNITED STATES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RALPH MCELVENNY, THE JOHN F. KENNEDY MUSEUM FOUNDATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John S. Martin, Jr., United States District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

This is an action for replevin by the United States against Ralph McElvenny and the John F. Kennedy Museum Foundation (the "Foundation") seeking to recover a map of Cuba annotated by President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis (the "Map") and materials annotated by the President in connection with James Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississippi (the "Meredith Materials"). The Government claims ownership of the materials pursuant to a deed executed by the trustees and executors of President Kennedy's estate (the "Deed"). Defendants assert that they are the rightful owners of the materials because the Deed does not apply to the Map or the Meredith Materials and is, in any case, invalid.

Defendants have moved to dismiss this case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is denied.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

After President Kennedy's assassination, Jacqueline B. Kennedy, as beneficiary under the President's will and as trustee and executor of his estate, and Robert F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy, as trustees and executors of the President's estate, executed a deed donating to the United States for deposit in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library (the "Kennedy Library") the "papers, documents, historical materials, mementos, objects of art, and other memorabilia . . . hereinafter called `Materials,' formerly belonging to and relating to the life and work of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and which he intended should be so deposited."

The donors relinquished title to the donated materials pursuant to the Deed which provided in part:

the `Donors,' hereby convey, assign, give, and donate to the United States of America, hereinafter called the `Donee,' effective as of November 22, 1963, and subject to the conditions and restrictions hereinafter set forth, all of our right, title, and interest to the Materials above described, hereinafter called `Materials,' as our right, title, and interest may appear, including but not limited to those Materials now stored at the White House, the Executive Office Building, The National Archives Building, or at such other place or places where such Materials may be found . . .
(emphasis added).

The Deed placed the following restrictions on the materials donated:

(i) This gift and transfer shall not and is not intended to apply to or embrace such items as John Fitzgerald Kennedy had not intended to be deposited in said Presidential archival depository, or which are determined by the Donors to be of special or private interest to the personal, family and business affairs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, his wife and children, parents, brothers and sisters.
(ii) The Donors shall have and specifically reserve the right to retain title and possession and to regain possession of any items that the Donors in their sole discretion may determine in accordance with this paragraph the Third are excluded from the purview of this gift, irrespective of the fact that such items may have been theretofore delivered to the Donee.
(iii) For the purposes of effectuating the provisions of subparagraphs (i) and (ii) of this paragraph the Third, the Donors shall have and specifically reserve the right to examine, at any time or from time to time prior to January 1, 1967, either themselves or through authorized representatives, any Materials from time to time in the possession or custody or under the control of the Donee, and wheresoever the same may be situated, for the purpose of determining and designating any such Materials as being excluded from the purview of this gift, provided, however, that examination of security-classified information shall be in accordance with applicable law or Executive Order relating to security-classified defense information.
(emphasis added).

The Administrator of the General Services Administration accepted the gift on behalf of the United States on or about February 25, 1965.

The Government alleges that a collector named Robert White acquired the Map from the President's secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, who improperly took the Map*fn1 and other materials that the donors intended to give to the United States pursuant to the Deed. Lincoln had access to the materials as the President's personal secretary and later as an employee of the Kennedy Library.

McElvenny obtained the Map in or after 1995 and the Meredith Materials in or before 2000. McElvenny donated the Meredith Materials to the Foundation in 2000.*fn2

DISCUSSION

The essential elements of a valid gift are: (1) intention on the part of the donor to make a gift; (2) delivery of the gift; and (3) acceptance of the gift by the donee. In re Roosevelt's Will, 73 N.Y.S.2d 821, 824 (1947). "Where there is no actual manual delivery, the gift may be completed by instrument in writing." Id. at 825. Moreover, acceptance of ...


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