United States District Court, N.D. New York
SAMUEL N. BREWER, Plaintiff,
GEM INDUSTRIAL INC., Defendant.
SAMUEL N. BREWER, Saratoga Springs, New York, Plaintiff pro se.
LIA B. MITCHELL, ESQ., O'CONNOR, O'CONNOR, BREESEE & FIRST, Albany, New York, Attorney for Defendant,
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.
On June 26, 2014, Plaintiff pro se Samuel N. Brewer (hereinafter "Plaintiff"), commenced this action alleging that GEM Industrial, Inc. (hereinafter "Defendant") violated his rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). See Dkt. No. 1.
Currently before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), which Plaintiff has opposed. See Dkt. No. 9.
According to Plaintiff's complaint, he was selected for recruitment into a "peer group organization" by his supervisor, Hussein Shousher ("Shousher") in September of 2011. Dkt. No.
1 at 6. Plaintiff researched the group and became concerned about the use of "New Age Religious beliefs... in the context of his employment [and] its compatibility with his personal deeply held Christian beliefs." Id. at 7. When Plaintiff discussed these concerns with Shousher, Shousher's "responses were threatening in nature, in that he indicated that refusal to join had in one case led to a young man's life flying apart' in the Cleveland area and also the possibility of being blackballed' by this very powerful group' as it related to future employability." Id. Plaintiff declined to join the organization in December of 2012, at which point he contends that his relationship with Shousher soured. Id. On January 25, 2014, Plaintiff "admitted himself to the hospital for an episode of Vertigo[, ]" and was released on February 4, 2014. Id. at 8. Upon Plaintiff's release from the hospital, "he was informed via telephone he was no longer an employee and was sent a one-sided release to sign." Id. Plaintiff further alleges that "he signed the release without the benefit of counsel, under duress and threat from Mr. Shousher's associates, and under the influence of medication...." Id. Due to the circumstances surrounding the release, Plaintiff "claims that his release is invalid." Id. As set out in his complaint, Plaintiff filed charges against Defendant with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on July 23, 2014. Id. at 4. The EEOC issued Plaintiff a Notice-of-Right-to-Sue letter on April 2, 2014. Id.
Defendant's motion to dismiss argues that "the existence of the release warrants a 12(b)(6) dismissal...." Dkt. No. 9-1 at 4. Alternatively, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has not alleged facts sufficient to suggest the release was signed under duress, specifically because Plaintiff accepted and did not return the severance package received in return for signing the release. Id. at 5. Finally, if this Court declines to grant Defendant's motion to dismiss, Defendant claims that this case belongs in the Northern District of Ohio due to the forum selection clause contained within the release signed by Plaintiff. Id. at 6.
Plaintiff objects to Defendant's motion on multiple grounds. Regarding the validity of the release, Plaintiff argues: (1) waiver of his Title VII claim violates the equal protection clause, and therefore the release is void; (2) he did not sign the release knowingly and voluntarily; and (3) that dismissing his duress claim due to his inability to pay back the severance payment creates "an inappropriate financial hurdle to someone who has been forced to file an in form[a] pauperis legal action and cannot possibly pay." Dkt. No. 10 at 8. Plaintiff then argues that the motion to transfer venue should be denied because Plaintiff's place of employment was within the Northern District of New York, and he does not have the assets to continue litigation in Ohio. Dkt. No. 10 at 9.
A. Standard of Review
A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of the party's claim for relief. See Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 111-12 (2d Cir. 2007). In considering the legal sufficiency, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the pleading and draw all reasonable inferences in the pleader's favor. See ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). This presumption of truth, however, does not extend to legal conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). Although a court's review of a motion to dismiss is generally limited to the facts presented in the pleading, the court may consider documents that are "integral" to that pleading, even if they are neither physically attached to, nor incorporated by reference into, the pleading. See Mangiafico v. Blumenthal, 471 F.3d 391, 398 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152-53 (2d Cir. 2002)).
To survive a motion to dismiss, a party need only plead "a short and plain statement of the claim, " see Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), with sufficient factual "heft to sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007) (quotation omitted). Under this standard, the pleading's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right of relief above the speculative level, " see id. at 555 (citation omitted), and present claims that are "plausible on [their] face, " id. at 570. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of "entitlement to relief."'" Id. (quoting [ Twombly, 550 U.S.] at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955). Ultimately, "when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, " Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558, or where a plaintiff has "not nudged [its] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, the complaint must be dismissed[, ]" id. at 570.
Despite this recent tightening of the standard for pleading a claim, complaints by pro se parties continue to be accorded more deference than those filed by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quotation omitted). As such, Twombly and Iqbal notwithstanding, this Court must continue to "construe [a complaint] broadly, and interpret [it] to raise the strongest arguments that [it] suggests.'" Weixel v. Bd. of Educ., 287 F.3d 138, 146 (2d Cir. 2002) (quotation omitted).
B. Validity of the release
As a preliminary matter, Plaintiff's contention that the release is unenforceable under the equal protection clause has no basis in the law. Dkt. No. 10 at 5-6. A release is not void simply because it releases one party from liability for claims under Federal law. Nicomedez v. AIG, No. 12 Civ. 490, 2012 WL 5264560, *3 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 16, 2012) ("A release is a contract.... Accordingly, releases which are the product of fraud or duress are capable of ratification and are voidable, not void.... That a release involves allegations of discrimination under federal, state or local law ...