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.
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
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
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
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 ...