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Newsletter > January 2009 > "PENN STATE SUES TO PURCHASE FORMER PHI DELTA THETA CHAPTER HOUSE"
PENN STATE SUES TO PURCHASE FORMER PHI DELTA THETA CHAPTER HOUSE
Daniel McCarthy, Manley Burke
On November 25, 2008, Penn State sued the former Pennsylvania Theta Chapter of the Phi Delta Fraternity and its current house corporation, 240 North Burrowes Road Alumni Association, in the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County, Pennsylvania.1
As detailed in the September 2008 issue of Fraternal Law, Phi Delta Theta suspended the charter of its former chapter at Penn State in December of 2007 following a string of violations of the fraternity’s Alcohol-Free Housing Policy. After first placing the undergraduate members of the former chapter on alumni status, Phi Delta Theta ultimately expelled the bulk of the students for violating terms and conditions outlined by the national organization. Six of the former members of the chapter sued Phi Delta Theta, seeking, among other things: 1) the return of Pennsylvania Theta Chapter’s Charter; 2) a reversal of the individual expulsions; and 3) a declaration that Phi Delta Theta improperly adopted its Alcohol-Free Housing Policy. The trial court ruled in favor of Phi Delta Theta on all points.
The former chapter house is still being used for members of the former Phi Delta Theta Chapter, as well as for another fraternity at Penn State.
One of the reasons the plaintiffs cited for their need for an injunction against Phi Delta Theta was a clause in the 1905 deed from Penn State that transferred title to a plot of land where the former Phi Delta Theta Chapter’s house still stands. Specifically, the deed provides the following:
…AND WHEREAS the lot of fround [sic] herein described is conveyed to the party of the second part for the express purpose of erecting thereon a fraternity or chapter house for the use of the members of The Pennsylvania Theta Chapter of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity at the Pennsylvania State College, AND WHEREAS a building for the purposes herein referred to is now being erected upon the said land, it is distinctly understood and agreed that the said building and the premises hereby conveyed are to be used and exclusively for the uses and purposes of the said fraternity and of the members thereof, now and at all times hereafter; and if, for any reason, the said premises should cease to be used as a chapter or fraternity house for the use, benefit and behoof of said party of the second part hereto, then and in that event the said party of the first part reserves the right to purchase the said premises at any time within five years at two-thirds of the actual cost of the building now being erected upon the lot herein conveyed, and after the period of five years, at a price which may be agreed upon by the party of the first part and the party of the second part hereto, their successors and assigns, respectively; or, in case the said parties cannot agree upon a price for the same, the same to be fixed and determined by arbitrators mutually agreed upon by the parties hereto, their successors and assigns….
Penn State now argues that because the subject property is no longer a chapter of Phi Delta Theta, it “has the right to repurchase the premises at a price mutually agreed to by the parties, or in the alternative, should the parties be unable to agree on a price, to have the purchase price set by arbitrators mutually agreed to by the parties.” Penn State alleged that litigation was necessary because the defendants have refused to sell the house back to the University. Penn State is asking, “that the Court direct the premises described in the Deed of 1905 be transferred to Penn State and that the Court appoint one or more arbitrators to determine the sale price for a transfer of the premises at issue or by such other method as the Court may direct.”
As of press time, the Defendants have not yet filed a response or answer to the complaint. Look for updates in future issues of Fraternal Law as the case proceeds.
1 See The Pennsylvania State University v. The Pennsylvania Theta Chapter of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity and 240 North Burrowes Road Alumni Association, Common Pleas Case No. 08-5203.