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Rocky Hill-Based Foundation Files Counterclaim Against Borough

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted November 30, 2023


The Rocky Hill-based foundation formerly known as The Mary Jacobs Memorial Library Foundation, which holds about a $3.4 million endowment plus a building appraised at $3.5 million, filed a 362-page document in New Jersey Superior Court on November 20 stating it is not legally bound nor are they under any obligation to use their assets to provide a library in the borough.

Mary Jacobs, the namesake of the Rocky Hill library.


The foundation stated in the legal documents that it “reasonably believes it can honor [the late Harold Jacobs’] intent to honor his late wife, Mary Jacobs, by amending the foundation’s initial purpose.” The foundation, which now calls itself the Mary Jacobs Foundation (MJF) concludes that a library is no longer needed in Rocky Hill, in its court documents.


“With the advent of the Internet, a physical library is no longer needed as a gathering place and a place to access information,” according to MJF legal documents. “In fact, society has access to infinitely more information which may be found in a library, instantly on cellular phones and computers.”


Also, the MJF says Rocky Hill citizens “are not without access to a library ... because a new ... library was established two miles ... [away] in Montgomery.”


Rocky Hill Borough Council had filed a lawsuit on September 26, in Somerset County Superior Court-Chancery Division, representing the following plaintiffs: The Borough of Rocky Hill; the SavetheMJL nonprofit corporation; Helen Morris; Walter J. Bradhering; Adele Batchelder; William K. Hallman; and Thomas D. Bremner.


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The suit claims the current board of directors of the MJF has “breached its statutory and fiduciary obligations to establish, equip, and maintain a free public library open to the public in Rocky Hill, pursuant to the terms, conditions and restrictions set forth by a trust established in the will of Harold Jacobs.”


The MJF board of trustees had changed the mission from providing a library in the town Rocky Hill. It now plans to fund “projects that promote creativity, sustainability, and community engagement.”


Specifically, the MJF says it now supports projects that “ensure the environmental and physical sustainability of the area, and promote peace, understanding, and generosity,” according to a MJF press release dated May 16, 2022.


The new mission would “continue to benefit the community by providing funding for community-based projects that enhance the [geographic] areas in and around Rocky Hill,” according to the MJF press release. The MJF also listed the building on Washington Street for sale. Rocky Hill Borough Council, along with citizens and a nonprofit group, are seeking an injunction to the stop the sale of the building and property.


The suit further claims the MJF trustees improperly amended its mission statement without seeking the approval of the court, which is in violation of the cy pres doctrine—a principle of law that courts use to save a charitable trust from failing when a charitable objective becomes impossible or impracticable to fulfill according to the IRS.


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The Countersuit

The MJF claims that Rocky Hill Borough officials and certain citizens have “damaged the library building’s value, the reputation of the foundation and of the individual board members.” The MJF also says “the foundation’s standing in the community with all of its partners including other community organization, harmed the foundation’s ability to fundraise, and caused other losses and damages to the foundation.” The MJF also cites specific citizens in a third-party complaint. They also argue that what they did in changing the mission and name of the foundation was appropriate and legal.


Background

The Mary Jacobs Memorial Library was founded in May 1971 as a result of a generous gift from Harold Jacobs in order to honor his wife’s memory and provide benefit to the community of Rocky Hill—the town where she grew up. Harold and Mary Jacobs are now buried in the Rocky Hill Cemetery. The Rocky Hill Borough Council lawsuit argues that it is clear from the plain and specific language of the Jacobs Trust that the intent of the trust was to provide a library for the benefit of the residents of Rocky Hill, and no other purpose. Harold Jacobs purchased the property located at 64 Washington Street, Rocky Hill and funded the erection of the current library building on that site. The purpose for which the corporation is formed is to establish, equip and maintain a free library open to the public in the Borough of Rocky Hill, which library shall be known as the Mary Jacobs Memorial Library, and by no other name.


This corporate purpose remained unchanged from 1972 until January 28, 2022, when the current board filed a certificate of amendment of its certificate of formation. According to the complaint, MJF’s financial documents show that the original endowment from the Jacobs estate of $800,000 has grown to approximately $3.4 million (plus approximately $200,000 in cash). The annual investment income earned is approximately $100,000. Further, the value of the library building was appraised at $3.5 million in April of 2019.


Conclusion

The MJF concludes that it has made every possible attempt to carry out Harold Jacobs’ intent. The library is no longer needed and has “seen a significant reduction in visitors.” “In June 2023, the MJF was told by the [Somerset County Library System] that the number of visitors to the library has decreased and is less than anticipated,” according to the MJF legal documents. It remains to be seen what will happen in court.

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