Judge tosses caverns' family lawsuit from federal court

^ Posted Feb. 13

Daily Staff Reports

A U.S. District Court judge has thrown out a lawsuit involving the heirs of the Luray Caverns founders.

On Friday, Judge Michael F. Urbanski threw out the lawsuit filed last summer by siblings John H.H. Graves, James R.O. Graves and Cornelia G. Spain against their sisters, Elizabeth Graves Vitu, who lives in France, and Katherine G. Fichtler, of Montana, according to online court records.

The suit sought to have Vitu and Fichtler found in violation of no-contest provisions of trusts left by their parents, H.T.N. (Henry Theodore Northcott) Graves and Rebecca Jackson Graves.

H.T.N. Graves' grandfather, Theodore Clay Northcott, founded Luray Caverns, a popular tourist attraction, in 1905.

In his memorandum opinion, Urbanski notes Northcott's descendants have long been at odds.

"The saga surrounding control of Luray Caverns does not begin with the current generation," the opinion states. "Rather, the family has sparred in state court many times over the last century. Issues involving the distribution of assets and the construction of the trust agreements have been regularly adjudicated in Page County Circuit Court. As this case is simply one skirmish in the complicated and contentious battle that has been waged between the descendants of Colonel Northcott over the distribution of stock and control of Luray Caverns, it is helpful to place the current litigation in its historic context."

A sixth sibling, Rebecca Hudson, wasn't named in the complaint. In his opinion, Urbanski states she "is a necessary and indispensable party to this action."

But, joining Hudson as a defendant, the opinion states, means there would be no complete diversity of citizenship, which was the only reason for the federal court to have jurisdiction.

Urbanski granted Fichtler's and Vitu's motion to dismiss the suit.

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