Erskine College, a private college in Abbeville County, will not have to pay out on certificates it issued granting free tuition at the school—certificates that were issued in 1854, before the start of the Civil War. The South Carolina Court of Appeals ruled, in an unpublished opinion, that the plaintiffs suing the school had waited much, much, much too long before bringing their lawsuit.
Robert and William Smith were suing to enforce the certificates, which technically had no expiration date. After the war, the school devalued the certificates, accepting them as only partial payment. The Smiths were seeking the equivalent of 25 [word] of tuition, which would be valued at over $700,000.
But the appeals court, in an unsigned opinion, said that after a delay of over 100 years following the decision to devalue the certificates, Erskine reasonably believed the certificates no longer had value and no one would attempt to redeem them for full tuition. As a result, Erskine would be prejudiced by enforcing the certificates after such an unreasonable delay.
“Since Erskine’s decision, Appellants and their ancestors failed to assert their alleged rights under the certificates for well over 100 years,” the court’s opinion reads. “Appellants offer no explanation for the delay other than they were allowing their ‘investment’ to grow. This is an unreasonable explanation for such a long delay in light of Erskine’s public decision to significantly devalue the certificates.”
It is true that investments tend to grow in value over time, but the plaintiffs in this case appear to have stretched that logic to unbearable lengths in trying to re-open a chapter of the school’s history that is, at this point, decisively closed.