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

August 4, 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

Cronin & Byczek, LLP ("C&B"), former counsel for the plaintiff, has moved for an order directing Defendant City of New York to release $70,745.29 currently held in escrow pursuant to the Court's order dated March 16, 2011, to C&B, in satisfaction of a charging lien arising in favor of C&B by operation of New York Judiciary Law § 475 ("Section 475").

I.

As set forth in greater detail in the Court's decision dated January 31, 2011, this dispute arises out of an action brought by the plaintiff, Marilyn Figueroa, against the City of New York and the New York City Department of Sanitation 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"). The plaintiff alleged that the defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and various disabilities; failed to accommodate her disabilities; and harassed her and retaliated against her. On January 30, 2009, the Court dismissed the plaintiff's gender discrimination claims under Title VII and the NYCHRL, as well as her claims under the ADA, but denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to the remaining claims.

The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Freeman for settlement in January 2009. Order, 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. Order, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. April 27, 2009). 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. Order, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. May 29, 2009).

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. Order, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 3, 2009). Magistrate Judge Freeman conducted several settlement conferences, at which the plaintiff was represented by Ms. Cronin.

On July 23, 2010, the defendants advised the Court by letter, with plaintiff's counsel's consent, that the parties had agreed in principle to the terms of a settlement of the case. The parties jointly requested a hearing so that the plaintiff's approval of the agreement could be confirmed on the record in light of her previous repudiation of a settlement agreement.

Pl. Opp. to Movant's Charging Lien Ex. A, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. April 27, 2011) ("Opp."). On July 30, 2010, however, 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. Letter from Eamonn Foley, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. July 30, 2010), ECF No. 78.

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 she could not in good conscience argue otherwise, as the plaintiff asked her to do. Contemporaneously, the defendants filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement.

By order dated October 20, 2010, the Court granted Ms. Cronin's motion to withdraw, on the grounds that (1) Ms. Cronin could not, consistently with the New York Rules of Professional Conduct, pursue a position she believed was factually inaccurate, and (2) her testimony in an evidentiary hearing on the motion to confirm the settlement agreement would be both necessary and substantially likely to be prejudicial to the plaintiff. Order, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 20, 2010).

On January 31, 2011, the Court issued a memorandum opinion and order granting the defendants' motion to enforce the settlement agreement. Memorandum Opinion and Order at 14, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 31, 2011) ("Mem. Op."). It found, among other things, that the plaintiff had validly conferred authority on Ms. Cronin to enter into the settlement agreement. Mem. Op. at 11. On March 17, 2011, the Court entered judgment in the case in favor of the plaintiff, pursuant to the settlement agreement, and directed the defendants to hold $70,745.29, representing approximately one-third of the settlement proceeds, in escrow pending resolution of the fee dispute between the plaintiff and C&B. Judgment, Figueroa v. City of New York, No. 05 Civ. 9594 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 17, 2011).

C&B has now moved for release of the funds pursuant to a statutory charging lien arising under New York law.

II.

New York Judiciary Law § 475 ("Section 475") governs attorneys' charging liens in federal courts sitting in New York. Itar-Tass Russian News Agency, 140 ...


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