A judge has ruled that Billings Catholic Schools can sell the former St. Francis Upper school building, ending a custody battle of the property.

On Jan. 30, the remaining challenger who tried to claim partial interest in the property dropped all his court motions.

District Judge Gregory Todd granted full ownership of the downtown property's title to the Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, which acted on behalf of Billings Catholic Schools. The case was then closed.

Billings Catholic Schools filed in August for full ownership of the property and to clarify a century-old deed granted to the diocese by Kate Fratt, a wealthy Billings woman.

Some 434 Fratt family heirs had potential stakes in the property, because Fratt's will split ownership. That split was to take effect if the property ceased to be a parochial school.

The final holdout, a man named David Cunningham, sought a piece of the property for his mother, who is a relative of Fratt. Attorneys for Cunningham and the diocese went into mediation last month.

Court documents don't specify that a settlement was reached, but Cunningham dropped all motions on Jan. 30. A court brief filed by attorneys for the diocese said only that "mediation has concluded."

The diocese moved to dismiss the case, and Judge Todd made the final ruling.

Cunningham didn't respond to an inquiry from The Gazette, and his attorney was out of the office for the week. Janyce Haider, Billings Catholic Schools Foundation president, didn't respond with a comment Tuesday afternoon.

Court documents indicate that the Catholic schools organization has about $3.5 million to pay off on its new building, which opened to students last fall. The sale of the downtown St. Francis Upper building, which was valued by the county at $1.8 million, will go toward that sum.

"The best use Billings Catholic Schools can now make of the property is to sell it and use the proceeds to help pay the debt it incurred to build the new school," attorneys for the schools wrote in court briefs.

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