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VALENTINE v. METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE CO.

November 1, 2004.

PAUL F. VALENTINE, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE CO., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES HAIGHT, District Judge

MEMORANDUM, OPINION AND ORDER

The parties having failed to arrive at an amicable resolution in their most recent settlement negotiations before Magistrate Judge Freeman, defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife") now moves to dismiss the case, pursuant to both Fed.R. Civ. P. 41(b) and the equitable doctrine of laches. Plaintiff Valentine opposes MetLife's motion, and cross-moves for partial summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, I grant MetLife's motion and deny Valentine's cross-motion.

Background

  This case began as an age discrimination lawsuit brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA"), more than nineteen years ago. Valentine is a former employee of MetLife who worked for the company for approximately 29 years, until he was involuntarily terminated in 1984.

  Valentine filed his complaint in April 1985. Pre-trial procedures began. In early November 1986, I was informed by the parties that a settlement was imminent. On November 6, 1986, I issued an order of discontinuance, dismissing the case with prejudice, but providing counsel for plaintiff the option of restoring the action to my docket within ninety days if final settlement was not achieved.

  As it turned out, by January of the following year the parties had still failed to consummate a final settlement. Plaintiff's counsel asked for more time, informing me that progress had come to a halt, in part due to a recent heart attack he had suffered. On January 27, 1987, I issued an order extending the deadline for settlement negotiations an additional ninety days. By late April, plaintiff's counsel once again asked for additional, unspecified time to reach a settlement with the defendant. This time, taking perhaps the less prudent course of action, I simply SO ORDERED counsel's letter, without marking an ending point for negotiations.

  What happened next is in dispute. Plaintiff asserts that in July 1987 he accepted a settlement offer from MetLife, through MetLife's then counsel, Richard L. Steer. However, according to plaintiff, due to an alleged miscalculation, defendant subsequently withdrew that offer. Plaintiff asserts that he then accepted other offers of settlement in 1989, 1991, and again in 1994 but each time, MetLife, through its counsel, later withdrew the offer without a word of explanation. Plaintiff presents a copy of a 1994 settlement agreement which he alleges had been agreed upon by the parties but subsequently withdrawn by MetLife. However, the copy of the 1994 agreement he presents is neither signed nor dated by either of the parties or counsel.

  Defendant denies that the parties ever came to an agreement, at any time, regarding settlement. In other words, defendants assert that there was no meeting of the minds. It follows then, and defendant also alleges, that it never withdrew any agreed upon settlements after the fact.

  In any event, by April 1998, Steer received a letter from plaintiff's present counsel, Timothy Quinn, seeking "one final attempt" to amicably resolve the matter through settlement, which defendant opposed. No less than five years later, on June 6, 2003, I received a letter from Valentine requesting that I bring the parties in for a settlement conference in order to "put this case to rest." In a memorandum and order dated July 8, 2003 and reported at 2003 WL 21576161, I granted plaintiff's request and restored the case to the Court's active calendar. In a separate order, I referred the case to a Magistrate Judge, once again for settlement purposes. The case was assigned to Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman.

  On March 17, 2004, Judge Freeman held a settlement conference with the parties. Despite Judge Freeman's best efforts and utmost patience in the matter, both during the conference and afterwards, the parties once again failed to come to an agreement, at which time the case was returned for my attention.

  Having chronicled the course of events to present, there is an additional factual issue in dispute that I must narrate. Plaintiff alleges that some time in 1984, prior to filing his complaint, and through a referral he obtained from a woman named Carolyn Davis of Bevlin Personnel, he personally met with Steer and discussed with him the possibility of pursuing an age discrimination claim against MetLife.*fn1 Valentine asserts that he met with Steer, at the offices of Epstein, Becker, Borsody & Green in New York City, and spent 20 or 30 minutes discussing the basis of his claim. After his presentation, Valentine submits, Steer "excused himself for a few minutes and when he returned, he announced that he could not take [the] case because MetLife was a client of his office." Affidavit of Paul F. Valentine, dated October 8, 2004, at ¶ 3.

  Valentine made this allegation for the first time during a March 17, 2004 settlement conference before Judge Freeman. A reasonable inference from plaintiff's accusation is that Steer's subsequent representation of MetLife was inappropriate. Plaintiff submits that for this reason, inter alia, defendant has "unclean hands," and therefore cannot resort to either Rule 41(b) or a common law defense of laches.

  Defendant vigorously denies Valentine's assertion that he met with Steer prior to filing his complaint. Steer submits in an affidavit of his own, "To the best of my knowledge, I had never met Valentine prior to my firm being retained by MetLife to represent it in the matter brought by Valentine." Affidavit of Richard L. Steer, Esq. In Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, July 22, 2004, at ¶ 7. Steer also submits that he never had the conversation with Valentine that the latter alleges. Id. Furthermore, Steer notes that at the time Valentine filed his complaint, in April 1985, Steer was of counsel to the law firm of Stein, Davidoff & Malito, and not Epstein Becker. In the same vein, he notes that this case was the first time either he or his firm had represented MetLife, and that MetLife had first retained his law firm to represent it on or about April 24, 1985. Therefore, defendant asserts, it is unlikely that Steer would have told Valentine, back in 1984, that MetLife ...


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