PART 3: Rustic Mall vs. Borough of Manville in Court

PART 3: Rustic Mall vs. Borough of Manville in Court

By Manville.Today
May 13, 2024

Let's take a step back, to 2021. Borough Council approved a Resolution (#2021-159) to declare the Rustic Mall an area in need of redevelopment, with the option to condemn the land.

Rustic Mall immediately sued Manville to dispute that their property was being classified as an "area in need of redevelopment" and the option for Manville to condemn the land. The court case went on until June 1, 2023, when it was mutually dismissed.

Reading through the docket (SOM-L-001416-21) for the court case, there were several motions made where both sides agreed to extend the case, while they worked out of court to come to some sort of agreement. This would prevent the case from being heard in front of a judge, and the case wouldn't actually go to trial if an agreement and/or settlement was reached out of court.

Back in April 2023, a motion was filed and signed by both Rustic Mall's and Manville's attorneys:

       "Please accept this letter requesting an additional extension of the briefing schedule through May 22, 2023, as set forth in the proposed form of order enclosed herewith. The parties mutually request additional time to provide an opportunity for ongoing settlement negotiations to continue to progress. The parties seek to avoid burdening judicial resources by resolving this matter through amicable settlement." (emphasis added)

It sounds like in this motion, Rustic Mall and the Borough of Manville were working on negotiations behind the scenes, out of court. They appear to be wanting to come to some sort of agreement which can be decided on their own, versus having the case brought in front of a judge at court.

Jumping back to the summer of 2022, at Manville's National Night Out, Mayor Onderko was going around in public, where others could overhear, mentioning to people how he received a letter between him and the Rustic Mall about how they would give Manville the property.

Curious if there was any truth to this, we submitted an OPRA request asking for a copy of said letter. Our request was denied, citing "Executive Privilege". There could be some fact to a behind-the-scenes piece of correspondence that was kept from the public about what really was going on. Especially since denying our request demonstrates that this letter may truly exist. What's in it?

Coming back to late-May 2023, both parties appear to have come to an agreement out of their negotiations. On June 1st, a Stipulation of Dismissal was filed with Somerset County Superior Court.

Both Rustic Mall, and the Borough of Manville, appear to have mutually agreed to dismiss the ongoing court case. Each party would bear their own court costs and attorney fees.

The case was dismissed with "prejudice". This is a legal term meaning that the issues brought forth in the case cannot be refiled in the future by the plaintiff. In this case, this means that Rustic Mall can not decide to sue the Borough of Manville again in the future regarding Manville's action to declare the Rustic Mall as an area in need of redevelopment, with the option to condemn.

It appears that there is some sort of "deal" that was made. The parent company of Rustic Mall is a very large, and well-funded organization. They could have litigated this for a very long time, if they so desired.

What was the agreement? What were the negotiations? What was the Mayor's correspondence that can't be obtained? We do not know these specific details. It would be nice, and in the public's best interests, to know what negotiations were going on behind the scenes, out of purview of the court and Manville's residents.

Let's hope we will soon find out, based on Manville's revised Resilient Communities Program grant application what this deal might have entailed.