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Eisen v. Norton

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 11, 2015

JOYCE EISEN, Plaintiff,
v.
DENNIS NORTON, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

KATHERINE B. FORREST, District Judge.

The conduct that gave rise to the events underlying this lawsuit occurred during the period from 1999 to 2003: the contract at issue was signed in 1999; defendant performed under that contract between that time and 2003; and plaintiff signed a release in 2003. Time then passed. A lot of time. More than a decade later, on September 4, 2013, plaintiff commenced this action. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges claims for breach of contract (Count I), breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing (Count II), unjust enrichment (Count III), breach of fiduciary duty (Count V), constructive trust (Count VI), and fraud (Count VII).[1] (ECF No. 17 ("Am. Compl.").) Defendant has raised the obvious defense to plaintiff's claims that they are all time-barred. The Court agrees. Defendant has also raised the second and equally dispositive defense that the release signed in 2003 covers all of plaintiff's claims. Again, the Court agrees. For these reasons, and as set forth below, the Court GRANTS defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings (ECF No. 22) and dismisses this action.[2]

I. FACTS RELEVANT TO THIS MOTION

The pleadings and documents incorporated by reference therein tell the following story: Plaintiff Joyce Eisen had a brother who passed away in 1999. Thereafter, plaintiff and defendant Dennis Norton, who is plaintiff's nephew and the decedent's son, entered into a written contract (the "1999 Contract") pursuant to which the defendant would challenge his father's will, which was not as favorable to either of them as it was to defendant's stepmother. Plaintiff agreed to fund the attorney fees involved in such a challenge, and the two parties would split the proceeds and plaintiff would be repaid on an agreed basis. Defendant was and is a lawyer licensed to practice law in New York. He did not, however, litigate the will challenge himself, and instead hired two law firms to do so. The contract was executed on July 26, 1999. (See Am. Compl. & ex. A.)

As agreed, plaintiff provided the money and funded the lawsuit, and defendant challenged the will. Both parties then performed their respective principal obligations under the contract. In 2003, that challenge was resolved pursuant to a settlement between the stepmother and defendant by way of a publicly filed Stipulation of Settlement. (Am. Compl. ex C.) The Stipulation of Settlement refers, on its face, to another separately filed-also public-document, a Consulting Agreement. (Am. Compl. ex. E.) On June 20, 2003, defendant notified plaintiff of the settlement and stated that, pursuant to the 1999 Contract, he owed plaintiff $109, 034.41, and that she also received a 50% remainder interest in a trust that owned a piece of real estate. (Am. Compl. ex. B.) He attached an accounting and further stated, "If this is acceptable to you please sign and return to me the enclosed release, and I will forward a check in the above amount to you." (Am. Compl. ex. B.) The attached accounting did not mention the existence of the Consulting Agreement, though the Stipulation of Settlement did. (Compare Am. Compl. ex. B, with Am. Compl. ex. C ¶ 8.) Plaintiff denies that she received a copy of the Stipulation of Settlement in 2003. (Am. Compl. ¶ 21.)

Plaintiff executed a release (the "Release") about a month after receiving defendant's notification of the settlement. The Release specifically mentions the existence of the Stipulation of Settlement, and that plaintiff received it. (ECF No. 8-1 ("Release").) It states that plaintiff:

[r]eleases and discharges DENNIS M. NORTON... from all actions, causes of action, claims, suits, debts, dues, sums of money, accounts, reckonings, bills, covenants, contracts, controversies, agreements, promises, variances... claims and demands whatsoever, in law or equity... which [plaintiff] ever had, now have or hereafter can, shall or may have, for, upon, or by reason of any matter, cause or thing whatsoever, from the beginning of the world to the day of the date of this RELEASE, including but not limited to, all claims arising out of the Estate of Bruce M. Norton and the letter agreement between RELEASEE and RELEASOR dated July 26, 1999 pertaining thereto.

(Release.)

Thereafter, on a number of occasions, plaintiff sought further information from defendant regarding the settlement terms. (Am. Compl. ¶ 35.) She did not receive such information, and eventually defendant stopped returning her calls. (Am. Compl. ¶ 35.) For reasons that are unclear, plaintiff waited until 2012 to retain counsel. (Am. Compl. ¶ 36.) Counsel performed the routine exercise of obtaining the Stipulation of Settlement from the public records at the Suffolk County Surrogate's Court. (Am. Compl. ¶ 36.) The Consulting Agreement is also in the Surrogate's Court public files. (See Am. Compl. ex. E.)

At the end of January 2014, defendant provided plaintiff with a copy of the Consulting Agreement. (Am. Compl. ¶ 48.) The Consulting Agreement references an arrangement between defendant and Nor-Court Management, Inc., a company in which the stepmother served as president-entered into contemporaneously with the Stipulation of Settlement-pursuant to which he performs certain services and obtains an ongoing income stream thereby. (See Compl. ¶ 50 & ex. E.) In total, defendant has received more than $1.2 million dollars in payments pursuant to the Consulting Agreement. (Am. Compl. ¶ 45.) Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in September 2013. (ECF No. 1.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This motion for judgment on the pleadings is brought pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. "After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). "The standard for granting a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is identical to that of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills, 259 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001). The court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Bank of N.Y. v. First Millennium, Inc., 607 F.3d 905, 922 (2d Cir. 2010). "To survive a Rule 12(c) motion, the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id . (quoting Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150, 160 (2d Cir. 2010)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).

"On a 12(c) motion, the court considers the complaint, the answer, any written documents attached to them, and any matter of which the court can take judicial notice for the factual background of the case.'" L-7 Designs, Inc. v. Old Navy, LLC, 647 F.3d 419, 422 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Roberts v. Babkiewicz, 582 F.3d 418, 419 (2d Cir. 2009)). A complaint is "deemed to include any written instrument attached to it as an exhibit, materials incorporated in it by reference, and documents that, although ...


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