Claremont Colleges have first right to buy Claremont School of Theology campus, state court rules

A white building called the "Colwell Building" has 7 black and white columns.
In the latest development of the ongoing legal battle between the Claremont Colleges and the Claremont School of Theology, the Superior Court of California ruled in favor of the Claremont Colleges. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

In the latest development in a protracted legal battle between the Claremont Colleges and the Claremont School of Theology, the Superior Court of California ruled in favor of the consortium’s legal right to repurchase the land owned by CST. Per the Jan. 4 ruling, the graduate school is now prohibited from leasing or selling the land to third parties. 

According to a statement from The Claremont Colleges Services spokesperson Laura Muna-Landa, TCCS envisions using the property to build additional student housing to address increased enrollment at the colleges, as well as office and classroom spaces for aging facilities. 

When CST bought the land from the Claremont Colleges, the two parties signed a land deed which agreed that the consortium would have the right of first offer if CST ever decided to sell the property. It also agreed that the Claremont Colleges would repurchase the land at a price calculated through an established formula. While in its possession, CST was required to use the land only for educational purposes.

In 2016, after CST expressed interest in selling part of the property to address financial struggles, the Claremont Colleges offered to repurchase a portion of the property at $14 million. 

According to Muna-Landa, this price was at “a fair market value [and] substantially more than the formula price [of $4 million].”  

However, CST said it had its land appraised for around $40 million and rejected the price offered by the Claremont Colleges.

Instead, CST attempted to sell 10.5 acres of its 16.4-acre campus to a commercial developer for $25 million. The school planned to relocate and partner with Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. The school sued the Claremont Colleges, claiming the agreement was void and under-valued under California law. The case first went to trial in 2018.

In 2019, the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled in favor of the Claremont Colleges, but the ruling did not solve all legal issues. Ignoring the ongoing litigation, CST signed an agreement with Yalong Investment Group, for which it has already been paid $10 million. The agreement gave Yalong exclusive use of the property. In response, the Claremont Colleges sought review of the Superior Court’s ruling by the California Court of Appeals. 

In January and June of 2021, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Claremont Colleges. 

The latest Jan. 4 ruling was broader than the previous ones. It stated that CST is prohibited from leasing, transferring or selling the property to third parties, including Yalong. Additionally, it stated that the right of first offer in the 1957 agreement was valid and in effect. Simply put, CST now needs to give the Claremont Colleges an offer to sell the property.

The colleges expressed satisfaction with the rulings.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to protect the legacy of the Scripps family and ensuring that the land donated to TCC and provided to CST in 1957 is used in a manner consistent with the higher education mission of The Claremont Colleges,” Muna-Landa said.

CST has until March 2022 to appeal the Superior Court’s decision. CST spokesperson Steve Horswill-Johnston declined to comment.  

Horswill-Johnston told the Claremont Courier that CST had yet to make a decision, but that it was considering appealing the ruling. 

Our goal remains trying to get an equitable price for the property and we hope to work with TCC to make that happen,” he told the Courier. 

CST had previously stated its hope to establish a two-campus model: remaining in Claremont while maintaining its partnership with Willamette. However, these plans have remained in stasis since 2019. CST is currently fully online for academic instruction. 

Other third parties, including the Western University of Health Sciences, are currently occupying the property, violating the terms of the Superior Court’s latest ruling. Muna-Landa said that the Claremont Colleges intend to seek an injunction prohibiting this.

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