Princeton University Wants Out of Morristown Courtroom

by: Richard De Angelis
13 Aug 2014

The Times of Trenton reported this week that Princeton University is seeking a change of venue in a challenge to the University’s local property tax exemption.

In the underlying matter the plaintiffs, a group of Princeton residents, argue that because the University is earning hundreds of millions of dollars in patent royalty income and distributing some of that income to faculty, that the school is involved in commercial enterprise and should no longer be entitled to property tax exemptions.  The challenge includes also a claim that some campus buildings, such as the Frist Campus Center and McCarter Theatre, host extensive commercial activity open to the general public.

The matter is currently pending before the Honorable Vito Bianco, a Tax Court Judge who sits in Morristown, New Jersey.  The University filed a motion last week seeking to move the case before the Tax Court in Trenton.  While the case, filed in April of 2011, was originally assigned to Judge Gail Menyuk in Trenton, it was transferred to Judge Bianco in Morristown after the retirement of Judge Menyuk in January 2013.

What makes this change a venue motion interesting is the timing.  Judge Menyuk retired in January of 2013.  After the matter was assigned to Judge Bianco, the University filed a motion to dismiss the challenge, which was denied by Judge Bianco in June of 2013.  Now, more than one year after losing that motion, the University wants out of Judge Bianco’s Morristown courtroom.

In support of its most recent motion, Princeton University argues that it is simply a matter of convenience as the parties, including the Borough of Princeton, are located in Mercer County as is the property that is the subject of the appeal, as well as three of the four attorneys involved in the case.  The plaintiff’s argue that the University is “judge shopping.”

We’ll have to wait and see whether Judge Bianco keeps Princeton in Morristown or sends it packing to Trenton.

A copy of yesterday’s Trenton Times article may be found here.


For more on this matter see:

Lawsuit challenging Princeton University’s tax-exempt status won’t be dismissed, Trenton Times, June 29, 2013