Judge Paul M. Peatross removed the Ratcliffe Foundation as a plaintiff in the ongoing Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation, Inc. and The Ratcliffe Foundation v. City of Charlottesville Lawsuit. The Foundation had made a motion to substitute and replace the existing Ratcliffe Foundation in the lawsuit after the original organization lost its corporate status.
The trial’s final verdict will determine whether the City had the right to transfer ownership of the Robert E. Lee statue — formerly in Market Street Park — to the Jefferson School of African American Heritage.
In July 2021, the City formally removed the Lee statue from Market Street Park and considered proposals from ten different groups bidding to take ownership. The Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously Dec. 2021 to give the statue to the Jefferson School of African American Heritage to be melted down and remade into a new piece of public art.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Trevellian Battlefield and Ratcliffe Foundation — have argued that under state law §15.2-1812, the City is allowed to “remove, relocate, contextualize or cover” memorials and monuments of war veterans, but not necessarily destroy them.
The Ratcliffe Foundation manages a museum in Russell County linked to Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart. The Foundation has previously petitioned the City of Richmond for confederate statues to be displayed on their property rather than destroyed. Both Ratcliffe and Trevelian made failed bids for the Lee statue and subsequently filed a joint lawsuit against the City of Charlottesville.
Prior to filing the lawsuit in 2015, The Ratcliffe Foundation lost its formal corporate status due to failures to file annual reports. After the Lee statue lawsuit was filed in 2021, Ratcliffe attempted to circumvent the lack of formal corporation status by creating another company of the same name under The Ratcliffe Foundation. Per Judge Peatross’ ruling, the new corporation will not be able to substitute for the original Ratcliffe Foundation, leaving Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation, Inc. as the sole Plaintiff, as Ratcliffe’s lack of corporate status prevents it from claiming legal standing.
According to Christopher Tate, legal counsel to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, the ruling marks an important victory for the defendant — formally just the City of Charlottesville, with the Center acting as an involved party.
“We appreciate the Court’s attention to this issue, and are gratified that it made the correct decision in ruling in the Center’s favor,” Tate said. “The broader implications of Ratcliffe’s lack of corporate identity will, I anticipate, be explored more fully in future filings in the suit.”
Judge Peatross has agreed to continue the case to an unspecified future date. The next hearing has tentatively been set for June 27.