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Appeals court revives anti-abortion org's lawsuit over withheld donations

The Minnesota Judicial Center in St. Paul, home to the Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Ken Lund via Flickr
The Minnesota Judicial Center in St. Paul, home to the Court of Appeals and the Minnesota Supreme Court.

A Beltrami County judge dismissed Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life's claims against a Bemidji man, who canceled checks totaling more than $800,000 after his father's apparent suicide.

ST. PAUL — A Beltrami County judge must take another look at a lawsuit filed by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life against a family trust over the cancellation of more than $800,000 in donation checks.

In an opinion released Monday, April 22, the Minnesota Court of Appeals partially reversed the district court decision after the anti-abortion-rights nonprofit appealed the case dismissal.

The late John Charais met with Minnesotans Concerned for Life several times starting in January 2022 to discuss some large donations. One would be divided between three entities: the Mayo Clinic for cancer research, the Catholic Church in Reykjavik, Iceland, and the remainder for MCCL’s programming.

Charais issued two checks to the nonprofit that February, totaling $842,000, and died the next day. Court documents stated Charais’ son Nick closed the bank account on his father’s trust and the payments to MCCL were revoked.

The gift would have been nearly as large as the organization typically raises in one year, according to the Star Tribune.

The newspaper also reported that Charais died by suicide, and his son told the Star Tribune that the organization was aware of this plan and took advantage of his father’s cognitive impairment.

The late Charais also reportedly met with the executive director of the anti-abortion-rights nonprofit, Scott Fischbach — U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach's spouse.

The appeals court ruled the advocacy group could not prove claims of civil theft, an enforceable gift or breach of fiduciary duty. But the court did rule that the nonprofit established sufficient facts for breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims, meaning they should not have been dismissed.

The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded back to the district court for further proceedings.

A probate case related to this estate is also scheduled to be heard in Hennepin County.