┬áNEW LONDON — F.L. Merritt Inc. has lodged a counterclaim against Ravenswood Construction LLC seeking monetary compensation from the Cheshire-based housing builder arising from Ravenswood’s attempt to prevent Merritt from selling 75 acres of land to the Groton Open Space Association.

In an action filed in New London Superior Court March 10, 2004, by Merritt’s lawyer, William Kroll, of Noank, Merritt accuses Ravenswood of “willful, deliberate and wanton [acts]…intended to injure the Plaintiff and block the Plaintiff from selling the property to GOSA, even though the Defendant had no contractual rights” to the property.

Merritt also requested for the second time that the issue be placed before a jury to decide. Superior Court Judge D. Michael Hurley had ruled against a previous attempt by Merritt to get a trial by jury, rather than a trial with only a judge deciding the issue. Mr. Kroll said that because the counterclaim seeks damages and punitive damages as its primary aim, it qualifies for a jury trial. Punitive damages would include attorney’s fees.

GOSA signed a contract April 14, 2003, to buy the Merritt property on Route 1 for $1 million, with the aid of a $650,000 grant from the state, for preservation in its natural state. Ravenswood claimed to have a previously existing contract, though the document in question had been returned to Ravenswood by Merritt with the signature of Merritt President Nelson Merritt cut out. The documents carried a rider, attached by Ravenswood, stipulating that any contract would not be valid until signed, executed and delivered to Ravenswood.

Nelson Merritt had signed the papers as a matter of convenience ahead of a stay in Washington but had ordered them held in his own lawyer’s Greenwich, Connecticut, offices pending receipt of required documents from Ravenswood. These documents were not forthcoming. Merritt’s lawyer then cut out the signatures and returned the papers to Ravenswood, along with Ravenswood’s deposit.

In its counterclaim, Merritt asserted that it relied on Ravenswood’s explicit acceptance of the rider, which required signature, execution and delivery for any rights to inure to Ravenswood. It accused Ravenswood of negligent misrepresentation in now appearing to repudiate the rider. It also charged Ravenswood with tortious interference.

The counterclaim was filed by Merritt as part of a legal process started by Ravenswood in the spring of 2003 to compel Merritt to sell to the builder and to collect damages.