SJU Files Motion to Dismiss $10M Bent Suit

Suzanne Ciechalski, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

The University last month asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit that accuses St. John’s of reneging on an oral agreement to keep an alumnus’ name on Bent Hall forever.

The motion, filed on March 28, asks for the complaint to be dismissed entirely.

Bruce R. Bent, an alumnus of St. John’s, said in his lawsuit, filed in January, that St. John’s “agreed to convey the naming rights to the Building, including prominent signage reflecting the naming rights throughout the Building” to him in 1981 in exchange for his $500,000 donation.

Previously, the building in question — home to the Peter J. Tobin College of Business — had signage attached to the front of it that said “Bent Hall.” Following major renovations to the building this past year, that signage was removed and replaced with the college’s name. However, “Bent Hall” is still written on the side of the building and the University maintains that the building itself is still named Bent Hall. Bent is suing for damages worth $9,896,000 according to court documents — he alleges that this is the present-day value of his original donation.

Joseph Oliva, a vice-president for administration and general counsel for St. John’s, submitted an affirmation in support of the lawsuit’s dismissal on behalf of the University last month. In it, he acknowledges Bent’s donation to the University, and that the building was named after him in recognition “of his pledge.”

“This was not a purchase of naming rights, but a tribute to Plaintiff, who was then described as a loyal alumnus and a talented member of the University’s Board of Trustees,” Oliva said, according to the document filed in March.

Additionally, Oliva said that an “exhaustive search” was conducted for a document granting Bent the naming rights. In the suit, Bent alleges that the naming rights to the building were confirmed to him in writing, in perpetuity. But in a statement to the Torch, Bent’s lawyer confirmed that the agreement was oral — not written.

“The agreement was oral, not written, as Mr. Bent trusted St. John’s to be true to its word,” his lawyer John Dellaportas said in January.

A copy of that Torch story has been submitted as evidence in the case.

Oliva said Bent acknowledged that there was “no written naming rights agreement” in a phone call between the two during the winter of 2016-17.

Brian Browne, a spokesperson for the University, said when the lawsuit was filed that Bent was presented an opportunity to be involved with the renovation of Bent Hall, but declined to do so.

“The only document that mentions a naming right granted in perpetuity is described as “a draft of a possible gift agreement,” which was created in 2016 as a possible settlement of the dispute that developed into this lawsuit,” Oliva said in his affirmation.

A decision is expected as early as next month.