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Kriegbaums respond to lawsuit

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

More than 20 heirs are claiming rights to Kriegbaum Field, after the Huntington County Community School Corporation filed a lawsuit seeking sole ownership of the property, which would remove restrictions set in place when the property was donated in 1927.

John Philip Kriegbaum donated the land to “the public schools of the city of Huntington” with stipulations that would require the land to be used for athletics, according to the original deed filed in 1927.

The original deed says the land should be given back to the family if those stipulations aren’t met, but former HCCSC superintendent Randy Harris said HCCSC’s lawyer believes the restrictions only apply to Huntington City School, which no longer exists because the public high schools in Huntington County consolidated in into one district, now called HCCSC, in the1960s.

According to the defendants’ response to the lawsuit, the possible Kriegbaum heirs claim that allowing HCCSC to “extinguish” the family’s “property rights without compensation would violate Article I section 21 of the Indiana Constitution and/or the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

The Kriegbaums also contend that Indiana Code 32-17-10-3 “is unconstitutional either on its face or as applied,” according to the response.

Indiana Code 32-17-10-3 says that nobody is allowed to recover property that contains a reverter clause created before 1963 based on violations that occurred before 1993.

HCCSC said the corporation has violated the conditions laid out in the agreement for more than 50 years and that none of the Kriegbaum heirs have initiated any legal action against HCCSC.

The Kriegbaums also deny the allegation that HCCSC contacted the heirs before the property was transferred from “the public schools of the city of Huntington” to HCCSC in 1968, according to the response.

According to the response, the Kriegbaums also deny the following:

nThe claim that HCCSC has fulfilled the terms of the agreement because it has used the property for athletics for the past 90 years.

nThe claim that “HCCSC’s interest and title to the Real Estate is superior to all persons who may have an interest therein, including the Defendants, and all of their heirs, devisees, legatees, successors and assigns.”

nThe legal action that HCCSC has initiated “to foreclose the rights of all persons, public and private, to the Real Estate in favor of the Huntington County Community School Corporation.”

Upon hearing public opposition to the lawsuit, HCCSC maintained that there are no plans for selling the property and that the board only wants to “clear a cloud on the title.”

The most recent action taken in the lawsuit included the appointment of a special judge, Wells County Superior Court Judge Andrew Antrim, on May 24, 2019.

Antrim has seven days to decide whether to accept the lawsuit, according to court filings filed in Huntington County Superior Court.

HCCSC board president Matt Roth said HCCSC will be in contact with the defendants to discuss a possible resolution to the matter.

The defendant’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. HCCSC’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. 

This story will be updated as more information is made available.