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WOLFSON v. WOLFSON

February 4, 2004.

ROBERT WOLFSON, Plaintiff, -against- STEVEN JAY WOLFSON, as Personal Representative and Administrator of the Estate of Eleanor Veronica Wolfson, deceased, Defendant


The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD CASEY, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Robert Wolfson ("Plaintiff") sues his father, Steven Jay Wolfson ("Defendant"), seeking to either rescind or reform the terms of a settlement agreement and a compromise order. The settlement agreement and compromise order resolved a wrongful death action that Steven Wolfson brought as personal representative of the Estate of Eleanor Veronica Wolfson, a passenger killed in the crash of Trans World Airways ("TWA") Flight 800. Eleanor Wolfson was Plaintiff's mother and Defendant's wife. Plaintiff alleges that his father fraudulently procured his consent to the terms of the settlement through, among other things, threats of physical violence and duress. Defendant moves to dismiss the Complaint on the pleadings, or in the alternative, to dismiss all of Plaintiff s claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED and all of Robert Wolfson's claims are dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

  The following relevant facts are either undisputed or construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Page 2

  On July 17, 1996, Eleanor Wolfson was aboard Paris-bound TWA Flight 800 when it crashed shortly after take-off along the coast of Long Island, New York. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-5; Robert Wolfson Affidavit in Support of Cross-Motion [R. Wolfson Aff.], at 3.)*fn1 Eleanor was traveling to Paris with her sixteen year-old daughter, Wendy Wolfson. (Id.; Declaration of Steven Jay Wolfson [S. Wolfson Decl.] ¶ 2.) Both Eleanor and Wendy Wolfson died in the crash, leaving Robert and Steven as the only surviving members of their immediate family. (Compl. ¶ 5; R. Wolfson Aff. at 3.)

  In 1998, as executor of his wife's estate, Steven commenced a wrongful death action against TWA and the Boeing Company.*fn2 (Compl. ¶ 7; Justin N. Lite Affidavit in Support of Cross-Motion and in Opposition to Defendant's Motion [Lite Aff.] ¶ 3; S. Wolfson Decl. ¶ 5.) In March 2001, TWA and Boeing offered to settle the action. (Lite Aff. ¶ 3; S. Wolfson Decl. ¶ 6.) On March 23, 2001, Steven spoke by telephone from California to Robert, who was in New York, about the proposed settlement. (Compl. ¶ 13; R. Wolfson Aff. at 9; S. Wolfson Decl. ¶ 7.) Robert contends that during this cross-country telephone conversation, his father threatened him with imminent physical violence and bodily harm if he refused to participate in the settlement.*fn3 (Compl. ¶ 13.) Page 3 Although Steven and Robert spoke by telephone about the settlement, they never met in person during the months of March and April 2001. (S. Wolfson Decl. ¶ 7; R. Wolfson Aff. at 8-9.)

  On April 13, 2001, Robert, then twenty-four years old, swore to a Consent, in which he expressly agreed to a $2.85 million total payment by TWA and Boeing, with the net recovery to be distributed 77.5% to Steven and 22.5% to Robert. (Compl. ¶¶ 30-33; Notice of Appearance, Waiver of Service and Consent ¶¶ 1, 2 & 7, Ex. A to Bainnson Decl.) In the Consent, Robert also acknowledged that he had been informed and understood the following: (1) the Court had yet to determine whether maritime*fn4 or Pennsylvania law would be applicable; (2) if Pennsylvania law applied, he might be entitled to a claim larger than the distribution to which he was consenting,*fn5 and Page 4 (3) he could seek his own independent legal counsel, but had decided on his own not do so. (Id. ¶ 12.) Additionally, Robert agreed to the entry of a Compromise Order by the court without further notice to him. (Id.)

  Also on April 13, 2001, as requested by TWA and Boeing, Robert executed a Release, which included an addendum setting forth the fact that nearly all of the settlement proceeds would be paid in structured annuity payments based upon the 77.5% to 22.5% distribution. (Release of All Claims Arising Out of the Loss of TWA Flight 800, Ex. B to Bainnson Decl.) The Release also provided that the annuity payments were fixed and could not be altered once the annuity was purchased. (Id. ¶ 5.)

  On April 17, 2001, four days after Robert signed the Consent and Release, Judge Robert Sweet entered a Compromise Order, which approved the amount of the settlement and the distribution of the net recovery, allocating 77.5% to Steven and 22.5% to Robert. (Compromise Order, Ex. C of Bainnson Decl.) Following entry of the Compromise Order, the signed Release was provided to TWA and Boeing, which then distributed the settlement funds. Thereafter, Judge Sweet dismissed the wrongful death action.

  Pursuant to the terms of the settlement, in May 2001, Robert received an up-front cash payment. (S. Wolfson Decl. ¶ 13.) In addition, Robert continues to receive his agreed-upon monthly Page 5 annuity payments. (Id.) Nevertheless, on November 13, 2002, Robert filed a Complaint in the Eastern District of New York, seeking to either rescind or reform the terms of the settlement. Although not a model of clarity, the Complaint alleges that: (1) Robert was never consulted or advised of the settlement negotiation, rendering the settlement agreement unfair, unreasonable and unconscionable; (2) Steven threatened Robert with bodily harm if he did not agree to execute the settlement agreement; and (3) the disproportionate distribution of the settlement funds is "without explanation and simply voidable for lack of consideration to [Robert]." (Compl. ¶¶ 12-14, 17, 21, 27 & 33.) By stipulation, the parties agreed to transfer the case to this Court.

  II. DISCUSSION

  A. Jurisdiction and Choice of Law

  In commencing this action, Plaintiff filed a Complaint that fails to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. That rule reads, "A pleading which sets forth a claim for relief . . . shall contain (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds upon which jurisdiction depends." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. The Complaint makes no mention whatsoever of the Court's jurisdiction to entertain Plaintiff's case.*fn6 Although the Complaint is not artfully pled, it need not be dismissed provided that it states adequate facts on which to uphold jurisdiction. See Feehan v. United States Lines, Inc., 522 F. Supp. 811, 814 (S.D.N.Y. 1981).

  Here, the Court concludes that Plaintiff has provided adequate facts to satisfy 28 U.S.C. § 1332: the parties are citizens of different states and Plaintiff alleges damages exceeding the requisite jurisdictional amount. (See Compl. ¶¶ 2-3, Answer ¶¶ 2-3.) ...


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