Developer hopes court will dismiss Kean’s ‘first right’

File Photo The developer hoping to buy the Merck property across from Kean University is hoping a judge will dismiss Kean’s right of first refusal next week.
File Photo
The developer hoping to buy the Merck property across from Kean University is hoping a judge will dismiss Kean’s right of first refusal next week.

UNION – It looks like Kean University has nothing in writing to support their claim that they are legally entitled to buy the 50-acre Merck property fronting Morris Avenue.

The developer who spent a year working on a deal to buy the Merck property only to be held up by University President Dawood Farahi heads back to court next week seeking a motion to dismiss the university’s claim of right of first refusal.

The matter was supposed to be settled sometime in November by trial, but this latest move by the developer is an attempt to end the legal wrangling over the property.

On Wednesday, Nov. 5, attorneys for developer John Russo of Russo Acquisitions are expected to go before Superior Court Judge Katherine Dupuis with a motion to dismiss the university’s claim that a covenant made in the last will and testament of John Kean, Stewart B. Kean and Mary Alice Reynolds, dated Jan. 16, 1925, is legally binding today.

According to information obtained by LocalSource, the legal team representing Kean University admitted as much in court documents. Apparently they have nothing in writing that transferred the right of first refusal to John Kean, who in turn verbally handed over the right to the university.

Kean conceded they had no written proof that the covenant could be transferred to them, but maintained the will from 1925 clearly stated that the “heir of successor” and those assigned inherited this right of first refusal.
Russo’s attorney, however, disagreed.

He maintained that in order for the covenant to legally continue there had to be “something in writing” from the Kean trust dating back to 1925 and anything less violates the law.

Russo, Merck, Kean and the township were waiting for a trial date to be set so the matter could be decided in superior court, but Russo filing a motion to dismiss alters that course for the moment.

However, Russo’s motion is not the first time this matter ended up back in court.
At the core of the argument is whether there needed to be written conveyance from the Kean family back in 1925, or if there is case law to support dismissal of the entire matter.

Initially, when the matter came before Dupuis in June, she ordered that Kean University was to stop all legal efforts to purchase the land until all the parties met in court for a legal hearing in November.

However, that changed three weeks later when legal representatives for the university went back to court seeking relief from that order.

Dupuis had the court read back what she said previously and noted “that’s not what I meant,” permitting Kean University to move forward with all efforts to buy the Merck site except the final step – closing the deal legally.

Sources close to the township maintained Kean officials and legal advisors indicated the university does not need anything in writing because the deed clearly points out that the right of first refusal is transferable.

The motion hearing is expected to be held in Superior Court in Elizabeth, Wednesday, Nov. 5, at 9 a.m.