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Marilyn Figueroa v. City of New York and New York City Department of Sanitation

January 31, 2011

MARILYN FIGUEROA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF SANITATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The defendants move to enforce a settlement reached by the parties during settlement negotiations with the plaintiff's former attorney, Linda Cronin. The plaintiff, who now appears pro se, objects to enforcement of the agreement on the grounds that (1) she was allgedely induced to enter into it under conditions constituting economic duress; (2) she did not validly confer authority on Ms. Cronin to settle the lawsuit, because Ms. Cronin concealed key terms of the settlement agreement from her; and (3) the agreement was not committed to writing or stipulated to in open court.

I.

The plaintiff, Marilyn Figueroa, brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000, et seq. ("Title VII"), the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. ("ADA"), and the New York City Human Rights Law, New York City Administrative Code § 8-101, et seq. (the "NYCHRL"), alleging that the defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and disabilities (high-risk pregnancy, anemia, and hemorrhaging). The plaintiff alleges that the defendants failed to accommodate her disabilities, and that they harassed and retaliated against her.

At a hearing on January 30, 2009, the Court dismissed with prejudice the plaintiff's gender discrimination claims under Title VII and the NYCHRL. Hr'g Tr. 19:8-9, 24:21-23, Jan. 30, 2009. It also dismissed with prejudice the plaintiff's claim pursuant to the ADA, on the ground that she had failed to allege the existence of a disability covered by the ADA. Tr. 29:9-12. The Court held that questions of fact remained as to whether the plaintiff's medical conditions were disabilities under the NYCHRL and whether she had received a reasonable accommodation. Tr. 30:24-31:3, 31:22-24. The Court also denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the Title VII and NYCHRL retaliation claims. Tr. 27:21-23. Finally, the Court held that the plaintiff's allegations concerning events occurring after the filing of her second amended complaint, in November 2007, were not at issue in this case. Tr. 21:23-22:1.

By order dated January 30, 2009, the Court referred this case to Magistrate Judge Freeman for purposes of settlement. Figueroa v.City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 2009) (order of reference to a magistrate judge). In April 2009, counsel for the parties informed the Court that a settlement had been reached. On April 27, 2009, however, the plaintiff sent a letter to the Court, indicating that she believed the settlement was unreasonable and unfair. Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. April 27, 2009) (order forwarding the plaintiff's letter to counsel for the parties). The defendants did not seek to enforce the alleged settlement agreement. By order dated May 29, 2009, the Court granted the motion to withdraw by David Fish, the plaintiff's attorney at that time. Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. May 29, 2009) (order granting motion to withdraw).

On June 26, 2009, Linda Cronin, the plaintiff's attorney during the events relevant to this motion, filed a notice of appearance. Notice of Appearance, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. June 26, 2009), ECF No. 54. By order dated December 3, 2009, the Court again referred this matter to Magistrate Judge Freeman for purposes of settlement. Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 3, 2009) (order of reference to a magistrate judge). Magistrate Judge Freeman conducted several settlement conferences, at which the plaintiff was represented by Ms. Cronin.

By letter dated July 2, 2010, the defendants requested leave to withdraw without prejudice their pending motion in limine, and the parties jointly requested until July 23, 2010, to conclude their settlement discussions. The Court granted the application on July 6, 2010. Declaration of Eamonn Foley in Support of Defendants' Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement ("Foley Decl.") Exh. B, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. August 20, 2010).

According to the defendants, between July 2 and July 23, 2010, the parties negotiated and ultimately arrived at a settlement. Foley Decl. ¶ 22. On July 22 and 23, 2010, counsel for the parties discussed and confirmed in writing the basic terms of the settlement agreement, including (1) the money to be paid by the defendants to the plaintiff, (2) the manner and timing of the plaintiff's departure from employment by the defendants, (3) a release of claims in favor of the City and a withdrawal of the plaintiff's pending claims, complaints, and challenges, (4) that the plaintiff would execute the usual settlement paperwork, including a general release and affidavit of no liens, and (5) that the plaintiff would remain on sick leave pending the determination of her pending disability retirement application. Foley Decl. ¶¶ 23-24 & Exhs. C, D. The plaintiff gave her consent to Ms. Cronin to accept the settlement on her behalf. Unofficial transcript of telephone call between the plaintiff and Ms. Cronin ("Tr.") at 14, attached as Exhibit A to Opposition to Motion to Enforce Settlement, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. November 29, 2010).

The defendants' counsel, with Ms. Cronin's consent, advised the Court that the parties had settled the case and were preparing settlement papers setting out the terms of the agreement. Foley Decl. ¶ 25 & Exh. E. The parties requested a hearing at which the plaintiff would confirm her understanding of an agreement to the terms of the settlement.

Between July 28 and July 30, 2010, counsel for the parties spoke by telephone several times and exchanged four drafts of the settlement documents. Foley Decl. ¶¶ 27-31 & Exhs. F-I.

The settlement papers were finalized. Foley Decl. ¶ 32 & Exh. J.

On July 30, 2010, the defendants' counsel wrote, with Ms. Cronin's consent, to inform the Court that the plaintiff had changed her mind, and did not wish to enter into the settlement agreement. Foley Decl. ¶ 33; Letter from Eamonn Foley, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. July 30, 2010), ECF No. 78. At a conference on August 3, 2010, Ms. Cronin confirmed that the parties had agreed to settle the action on July 23, 2010, and that the terms of the agreement to which the plaintiff had agreed were reflected in the settlement papers submitted to the Court. Foley Decl. ¶ 34 & Exh. K at 3-4. During a telephone conference on August 6, 2010, Ms. Cronin again stated that the plaintiff had agreed to the settlement agreement, and that the plaintiff had agreed to the terms reflected in the settlement documents. Foley Decl. ¶ 37 & Exh. L at 4-5.

On August 24, 2010, Ms. Cronin filed a motion to withdraw as the plaintiff's attorney, on the ground that she believed the plaintiff had entered into a binding settlement agreement, and that Ms. Cronin could not in good conscience argue otherwise, as the plaintiff asked her to do. Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for Linda M. Cronin (Cronin & Byczek) to Withdraw as Attorney of Record, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. August 24, 2010). By order dated October 20, 2010, the Court granted Ms. ...


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