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Laskowski v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

May 7, 2015

MARK R. LASKOWSKI et al., Plaintiffs,

Hancock, Estabrook Law Firm ALAN J. PIERCE, ESQ., JOHN G. POWERS, ESQ., ZACHARY M. MATTISON, ESQ., Syracuse, NY, for the Plaintiffs.

Smith, Rolfes Law Firm Brian P. Henry, Esq., Sarasota, FL, Hiscock, Barclay Law Firm Thomas J. O'Connor, Esq., Albany, NY, for the Defendant.


GARY L. SHARPE, Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

Pending before the court is a motion by defendant Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company to enforce a settlement agreement allegedly entered into with plaintiffs Mark R. Laskowski and Richard Hall. (Dkt. No. 145.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied.

II. Background

This matter has endured a long history of discovery disputes, motion practice, substitutions of counsel, and scheduling conflicts. After first being deemed trial ready in June 2012 upon the resolution of Liberty's motion for summary judgment, (Dkt. No. 59), various delays and adjournments have brought the case to its current posture. Most recently, the trial in this action was scheduled to commence on February 2, 2015, (Dkt. No. 102), but the withdrawal of plaintiffs' then-counsel, Kevin Kuehner, resulted in yet another adjournment of the trial date, (Dkt. Nos. 146, 149).

In the meantime, and prior to Kuehner's withdrawal from the case, the parties had been engaging in settlement negotiations by way of various communications between their respective attorneys: Kuehner, on behalf of plaintiffs, and Thomas O'Connor, on behalf of Liberty. The facts relevant to the pending motion all arise from a period of a few days in January 2015.

On January 13, 2015, Kuehner met with plaintiffs to discuss, among other things, the potential for settling this case without going to trial. (Dkt. No. 145, Attach. 3 at 2.) According to Kuehner, after that meeting concluded, he "recognized that [he] did not have a commitment as to what number would be acceptable" to plaintiffs to settle the case, so he attempted to reach Hall on his cellular telephone; Laskowski answered the call, and indicated that $95, 000 would be acceptable to both him and Hall.[1] (Id. ) Kuehner then reached out to O'Connor to make an "opening demand" to settle the case. (Id. at 3; Dkt. No. 145, Attach. 1 ΒΆ 11.)

The next afternoon, on January 14, Kuehner communicated with O'Connor via telephone, at which time O'Connor "explained that he had $60, 000" to offer for settlement, but Kuehner indicated that he was not authorized to accept anything less than $95, 000. (Dkt. No. 145, Attach. 3 at 3.) Kuehner states that he "conveyed clearly to... O'Connor that $95, 000.00 right then resolved the case, " but O'Connor did not accept that offer, and, instead, both Kuehner and O'Connor agreed to "go back to [their] respective clients and explore whether $75, 000.00 would be sufficient to resolve the case." (Id. ) Kuehner attempted to contact Hall and Laskowski that day, but was unable to reach them. (Id. )

The following morning, on January 15, Hall and Laskowski telephoned Kuehner, at which time Kuehner informed them that Liberty would pay $75, 000 to settle the case. (Id. ) Hall and Laskowski told Kuehner that "they would need to think about" whether they would be willing to accept that offer. (Id. ) Upon ending that phone call, Kuehner sent an email to O'Connor at 9:37 A.M., notifying him that he had inquired of his clients whether the $75, 000 offer would be acceptable and that they would "let [him] know." (Id.; Dkt. No. 145, Attach. 2 at 7.) Shortly after that email, O'Connor indicated to Kuehner, over the telephone, that Liberty would be willing to offer more than $75, 000, though no specific number was suggested. (Dkt. No. 145, Attach. 3 at 3.) Kuehner left a voicemail with his clients to that effect. (Id. ) Kuehner also indicated to O'Connor that afternoon that he had not yet heard from his clients. (Id. at 4; Dkt. No. 145, Attach. 2 at 6.)

At 3:35 P.M., Hall called Kuehner, and indicated "that $75, 000.00 would not work [and] that they wanted their day in court." (Dkt. No. 145, Attach. 3 at 4.) According to Kuehner, while he was on the phone with Hall, he checked his email and discovered a new message from O'Connor, which had been sent at 3:34 P.M., purporting to accept plaintiffs' offer to settle for $95, 000. (Id.; Dkt. No. 145, Attach. 2 at 3.) Kuehner informed Hall and Laskowski of this email, at which time Hall and Lawskowski rejected the proposition and refused to settle the case. (Dkt. No. 145, Attach. 3 at 4.) Kuehner sent an email to O'Connor at 3:54 P.M. in which he told him of his clients' refusal to settle. (Id.; Dkt. No. 145, Attach. 2 at 9.)

On January 16, O'Connor filed a letter with the court indicating his "belie[f that] this case has been settled, " despite "plaintiffs express[ing] an interest in withdrawing their demand." (Dkt. No. 110 at 1.) Kuehner subsequently filed a letter notifying the court that his clients did not believe the case had settled. (Dkt. No. 111 at 3.) Ultimately, after Liberty was given permission to file a motion to enforce the settlement, (Dkt. Nos. 113, 115), it filed the instant motion, seeking to have ...

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