Right of First Refusal Not Triggered by Partition Action
In a partition action, the Fourth Department determined the agreement between the parties was a right of first refusal, not an option to purchase, which was not triggered by the partition action. The court explained the operative law:
Plaintiff and Waite [one of the defendants] are tenants in common and acquired the property at issue by an executor’s deed pursuant to the settlement of their mother’s estate. In settling that estate, plaintiff, Waite and the other named defendants signed a settlement agreement providing that plaintiff and Waite “agree to grant to [each of the other named defendants] the option to purchase the . . . property, in the event that [plaintiff and Waite], either jointly or severally, determine to sell, assign or transfer the . . . property to someone other than each other. The option price shall be [$120,000] plus the costs of any improvements made by [plaintiff and Waite] to the premises subsequent to [their] purchase of the premises. Said option may be prepared in recordable form by any or all of the [other named defendants] at their own cost and expense, and [plaintiff and Waite] will execute any said recordable option. Upon receipt of an offer to purchase the premises, except from [each other], [plaintiff and Waite] shall notify each of the [other named defendants] then living, in writing of the proposed sale of the premises, and the [other named defendants] shall have sixty (60) days to exercise their option as granted herein.” * * *
We conclude that the right bestowed by the settlement agreement … is a right of first refusal, not an option to purchase, despite the use of the term “option” therein …, and thus that Supreme Court mistakenly treated the contractual right as an option to purchase. “A right of first refusal is a dormant right that is triggered when an owner decides to sell the property to a third party at an agreed-upon price” …, and those are the applicable facts set forth in the settlement agreement.
We agree with Waite on her appeal that the court erred in determining that the contractual right was triggered upon plaintiff’s commencement of the instant action, for partition and sale. It must first be determined in a partition action whether the property may be partitioned, i.e., divided among the owners in some fashion, without great prejudice to them, and “partition sale” is a secondary consideration only in the event that partition greatly prejudices the owners (see RPAPL 901 …). Thus, commencement of the partition action did not trigger the right of first refusal inasmuch as a partition, as opposed to a partition sale, would not result in a transfer of the property to a third party. Furthermore, no offer of purchase from a third party triggered either the right of first refusal or the contractual obligation of plaintiff or Waite pursuant to the settlement agreement or recorded document. Tuminno v Waite…, 915, 4th Dept 10-4-13