Image 01 Image 03

Lawsuit Contesting De-Naming of Hastings Law School Can Move Forward, CA Appellate Court Rules

Lawsuit Contesting De-Naming of Hastings Law School Can Move Forward, CA Appellate Court Rules

The court rejected the defendants’ bid to have the suit dismissed under the anti-SLAPP statute, rejecting claim that de-naming lawsuit was an attack on their free speech.

Last week, the California Court of Appeal ruled that the de-naming lawsuit brought by the descendants of donor S.C. Hastings against the State and administrators of the College of the Law, San Francisco, formerly known as UC Hastings, can move forward.

A copy of the full opinion is at the bottom of this post.

We covered the controversy behind the story here:

As we wrote earlier, last July, the board of directors at UC-Hastings College of the Law voted to change the school’s name to College of the Law, San Francisco. The name was officially changed by the California state legislature in a bill passed into law  (AB 1936) effective on January 1st of this year.

The school’s namesake, Serranus Clinton Hastings, was the first chief justice of California and was linked to the killing of Native Americans in the 1850s.

In 1878, S.C. Hastings donated $100,000 under an agreement with the State to establish the law school bearing his name. The agreement was written into state law, which provided that the school “shall forever be known and designated as the Hastings College of the Law.”

Last October, Hastings’ descendants and a group of Hastings alumni sued both the State and administrators of the law school to stop them from changing the law school’s name.

The law school’s administrators asked the trial court to dismiss the lawsuit under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, arguing that their right to use the new name of the law school is protected free speech.

The trial court rejected their bid, because none of the plaintiffs’ claims were based on the defendants’ protected activity. They were based on the State Legislature’s enactment of the law, AB 1936, de-naming the law school.

The appellate court agreed:

We can agree that the success of plaintiffs’ claims would, at a minimum, prevent the College Defendants [i.e., the administrators] from expressing a new official designation for the College, but even assuming that future speech in which the College Defendants use the new name is protected activity within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP statute, it is not the reason plaintiffs have sued them. Because plaintiffs’ claims are not based on the College Defendants’ speech, we conclude that the trial court properly denied the motion.

The Hastings alumni and heirs are represented by the Center for American Liberty and the Dhillon Law Group*: “The appellate court absolutely got it right,” said Mark Trammell, executive director of the Center for American Liberty. “Our clients are clearly challenging the constitutionality of AB 1936, not the defendants’ speech. Any attempt to characterize our clients’ claims as anything but a constitutional challenge is a lame attempt to evade justice.”

* My husband Ron Coleman is a partner in the Dhillon firm.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


And this is yet another example of how empty rhetoric about “small government” is empty and self defeating.

The small government thing to do is agree the college can do whatever it pleases.

    caseoftheblues in reply to Danny. | June 12, 2023 at 10:49 pm

    Talk about noyhaving a single clue. You are so deep in your own ignorance and lack of any understanding of the issue there is simply no place to even begin.

ugottabekiddinme | June 12, 2023 at 8:52 pm

The original agreement enshrined in the law states that it “shall forever be known and designated as. . . “, and that is pretty darn clear language as far as I can tell. “Forever” is hardly an ambiguous term.
Maybe the Hastings descendants, if they lose this name fight, can sue for return of all the value of the donation together with compound interest adjusted for inflation since 1878.
As I recall there was a recent endowment of the study of free enterprise at some business school, which then switched the funds to something else, and the donor sued and got his millions back.

    artichoke in reply to ugottabekiddinme. | June 12, 2023 at 9:56 pm

    UT Austin? If so he should have gotten treble damages and punitive damages too.

    An agreement was reached, written I assume, which was later passed into state law. The legislature clearly has the power to change law. I think the issue is whether or not the original agreement constitutes a contract and is the State/School trying to evade the original contract. Looks like in their haste to be all woke the school and legislature didn’t do the thing right and I bet BLM and the woke DEI people pushed this nonsense.
    If the original contract is valid then the school either keeps the name or negotiates a settlement with the heirs. I wonder what $100,000 plus 150yrs of compounded interest looks like?

      CommoChief in reply to diver64. | June 13, 2023 at 5:04 pm

      A lot. Consider that back in 1878 that $100,000 could be converted to gold at the bank and an oz of gold was roughly $20 ish back then v $2k ish oz today.

A law was passed giving the school the name. A future legislature can pass a law nullifying the previous law which they did. The heirs can then sue to get the money back plus interest.
This just looks like an attempt by the school to keep the money.

When will Stanford be renamed?

    BobM in reply to FarOutWest. | June 13, 2023 at 8:22 pm

    Not not to mention Harvard and Yale?
    I don’t know if the donations that got those colleges named as such included an agreement to keep the name forever, but if they did interest over centuries means even their accounts could take a big hit.

    Basically, just about everyone of note from a century ago or more was, by some comparison of current standards, a douch. They either supported or at least allowed slavery, treated indigenous peoples as enemies rather than true nations or wards of the state, colonized places brown people called home, or SOMETHING..