BU Asks Judge to Dismiss Coretta Scott King Suit

University and King Estate Continue to Quarrel Over Possession of Civil Rights Leader's Papers

Boston University officials fired a salvo Monday in the school's battle with Coretta Scott King over ownership of 83,000 of the late Martin Luther King's personal papers, claiming that the suit lacked a legal basis.

The university asked Suffolk Superior Court Judge Robert A. Mulligan to dismiss the suit in which Coretta Scott King, administrator of her late husband's estate, is attempting to gain possession of the documents, said Boston University Trustee Melvin B. Miller.

"We haven't heard anything yet from the plaintiffs that would allow them to make a lawful claim for the documents," Miller said yesterday.

The university claims that a 1964 letter in which King made Boston University a repository for the documents justifies its legal right to the collection, Miller said.

King wrote in the letter, "In the event of my death. all such materials deposited with the university shall become from that date the absolute property of Boston University."

However, attorneys for the King estate are trying to prove that the letter does not constitute a legal claim to the documents according to Massachusetts standards. They also maintain that the school has not cared properly for the papers and that several are missing.

Miller said that a university-hired expert "found the condition of the documents is absolutely flawless." He added that King's letter absolved the university of any responsibility for damage done to the documents provided that they were properly maintained.

No Ruling Yet

The judge has not ruled on the university request, but he allowed the plaintiffs to begin taking depositions yesterday from university officials and employees, Rudolph F. Pierce, the estate's attorney, said.

If the King estate wins its suit, the documents will most likely be housed at the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Action in Atlanta, Pierce said.

Miller said that the documents are important for research at the university. "We consider [the King papers] to be among the crown jewels of the 20th century collection of papers" at Boston University, he said.

The university also says that the King suit is invalid because King's death was in 1968 and the statute of limitations on such cases is two years, Miller said.

Pierce said that the statute of limitations had not expired as "the first definitive action taken by the university that was clearly at odds with the estate" was last October when the university board voted unanimously not to transfer ownership of the papers to the King estate.