UNION COUNTY, NJ — Less than two weeks after Kean University filed a motion for reconsideration with the court to overturn a ruling saying they had no legal claim to the 50-acre Merck property, John Kean filed a motion with the court to be a part of the university’s fight to reclaim the land.
Kean, a surviving heir of the original owners of the property that includes Merck and other land fronting Morris Avenue, filed the lawsuit late last week with the expectation his plea would be heard as early as tomorrow before the same judge that ruled the university had no claim on the property.
Should John Kean’s motion for intervention be approved by the court, he will legally be able to respond to questions involving the wording of the will cast in 1925 that specifically addresses whether there was a legal right to pass the property on to the university in the first place.
The Kean Board of Trustees has maintained from the start that John Kean had this right to the university because his father’s 1925 will legally left him “all real and personal property.” This included any and all covenants that mentioned “the right of first refusal.”
The right of first refusal is a contractual right that gives a person the ability to enter into a transaction before the owner enters into that transaction with a third party. In this case, if the property owner in question ever wants to sell the property, the former owner has the “first right of refusal” or the ability to buy it, before anyone else buys it. However, complicating the matter is whether they can assign that right to someone else. This has been at the crux of Kean University’s claim to the Merck property, and why the matter is tied up in court.
This motion could possibly overrule the judgement John Russo of Russo Development won in early January allowing the developer to resume negotiations with Merck to buy the 50-acre parcel of land that John Kean did not want.
In 1986 John Kean sold the 50-acre parcel of land to Schering Plough, and Merck in turn acquired the land when the companies merged. At that time, the motion for intervention said, the deed conveying the property specifically noted the right of first refusal clause was still included in the property transfer documents.
The motion to intervene is a legal move or application to the court that permits a person with an interest, or claim of interest, to become a part of a lawsuit that could “impede or affect that interest.”
While complex, the move by John Kean is significant because he is seeking to actually become a defendant in the motion for reconsideration the Kean Board of Trustees filed two weeks ago. This motion requested that Superior Court Judge Katherine Dupuis reconsider her ruling of Jan. 5 because they felt the court overlooked or erred in its decision.
According to the motion filed by John Kean’s attorney, Jeffrey M. Garrod of Orloff, Lowenbach, Stifelman and Siegel, as heir to the property the right of first refusal is owned by him as a result of the 1925 will drafted by his deceased father.
Because of this will, the motion noted, “John is the successor-in-interest to the restrictive covenants running with the land.”
The motion explained that John Kean has every right to intervene to protect his interests in the right of first refusal, which have not adequately and legally been protected by the university’s motion for reconsideration.
According to the motion, when Merck decided to sell the parcel of land in February 2014 they notified John Kean, but the notification failed to reach him initially. This complicated things, but not for long.
In April 2014, after finally receiving notification, John Kean assigned the right of first refusal to the university, who decided to seriously look into the purchase of the land. In turn, the motion said, the university agreed to pay $500,000 to Liberty Hall Museum Foundation, which John Kean heads as director, according to the lawsuit.
At this point Merck notified Russo that the first right of refusal had been exercised by John Kean and further negotiation to purchase the land could not continue. The developer responded by filing a lawsuit against Kean, arguing the right of first refusal was no longer legally applicable.
John Kean disputed this in his motion for intervention, maintaining that despite handing over the right of first refusal to the university, he still has a legal vested interest in how the land is used.
The motion goes on to say even though the university handed over a half million dollars to the Liberty Hall Museum in exchange for the right of first refusal, the right of first refusal “is the lynchpin of this arrangement,” and the target of the very claims Russo and the township have made for legal relief in the matter.
Mayor Manuel Figueiredo reacted strongly to news John Kean had filed the motion for inclusion in the university’s battle to reclaim the property.
“John Kean has sold out every resident and taxpayer of the Township of Union and Union County for $500,000 in his attempt to sell his right of first refusal to Kean University,” said the mayor, going on to explain the position the township will be in as a result.
“He has so little concern for our town and Union County that he would ensure the university takes away 50-acres and $4 million in tax revenue from all of us,” Figueiredo added.