British Columbia

Take-backsies? Businessman sues to get $500K gift back from independent school

In a notice of civil claim filed in late March, Bruce Cran alleged that Madrona School’s board of directors were supposed to spend his gift for specified purposes, but didn’t.

Lawyer says case shows the need to properly spell out the terms of conditional gifts

The exterior of the Madrona School Society's building on west 10th Avenue in Vancouver. (Google Streetview)

A businessman is suing a Vancouver independent school to recover a $500,000 gift after the school allegedly didn't spend the money in an agreed-upon way.

In a notice of civil claim filed in late March, Bruce Cran alleged that Madrona School's board of directors were supposed to spend his gift under certain conditions.

"Because the funds were provided as a conditional gift to Madrona, and the conditions subsequent have not been satisfied, the plaintiff is entitled to have the funds returned to him," the notice reads.

"The directors were aware of the conditions subsequent and knowingly breached those conditions by wrongly appropriating or converting the funds."

The conditions, according to the claim, are to ensure "management of the school would be consistent," that principal Kelly Reynolds would remain on staff, that Cran would be kept abreast as to how the money was used and that the school use the money to build or lease a new building.

It alleges none of those conditions were met.

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Gifted school

Madrona school, according to its website, focuses on "bright and gifted children." It offers kindergarten to Grade 9 classes.

Cran, the claim says, gifted the money in 2015 and his two children attended the school from 2014 to 2017.

He asked for the money back in 2017, the claim alleges, and the school refused to return it.

CBC News attempted to contact Madrona Friday afternoon, but the school was closed. It also left messages with several of the current and former board members of the Madrona School Society named in the suit, but did not receive a reply.

A message was left with Cran's lawyer which also was not returned.

Unusual case

Lawyer Candace Cho, who specializes in contentious gifts arising from wills, said cases like this are unusual in her experience.

What it will likely come down to how clear the terms of the gift were.

"That's the wiggle room that the school will have," Cho said. "There's not a breach if they didn't know what the terms were."

She said this case speaks to the importance of making the terms of a gift very clear — and documenting them.  

The allegations in the notice of claim have not been tested in court. It is not known if any of the defendants have filed a response.