United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION AND ORDER
RICHARD J. SULLIVAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jimmie Lloyd ("Lloyd") brings various claims under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 for damages and injunctive relief
against the City of New York and Police Officers Jimmy Perez
and Shawn Moynihan, asserting violations of his federal civil
rights in connection with an arrest and confiscation of his
car. Now before the Court is Defendants' motion for
summary judgment on the ground that Lloyd released his claims
in this case when he settled a previous case, No. 14-cv-1589
(BMC) (LB), Lloyd v. Police Officer Loweth et al.
(E.D.N.Y.). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants'
motion is granted.
Lloyd was arrested on December 18, 2014 for allegedly driving
with fake license plates.(Def. 56.1 ¶ 7; Doc. No. 30
("Am. Compl.") at 2.) He was taken to the police
station and given a desk-appearance ticket, and his car was
temporarily confiscated. (Am. Compl. at 2.) On October 29,
2015, Lloyd, proceeding pro se, filed this suit
against two John Doe officers and the City of New York,
alleging various constitutional violations in connection with
his arrest. (Doc. No. 2; see also Doc. No. 8
(construing Lloyd's complaint to assert claims against
the City of New York, since the New York City Police
Department is not a suable entity).) After a pre-motion
conference, Lloyd filed an amended complaint on September 20,
2016 that identified the John Doe officers and corrected the
date of his arrest. (Doc. No. 30.)
answered the amended complaint on October 11, 2016 (Doc. No.
32), but about two weeks later requested permission to file a
motion to dismiss, which the Court construed as a request to
file a motion for summary judgment, because they had learned
about a settlement and general release of claims that Lloyd
had executed in a previous case against different police
officers. (Doc. Nos. 34, 35; see No. 14-cv-1589
(BMC) (LB), Lloyd v. Police Officer Loweth et
al. (E.D.N.Y.) (“Lloyd I”).)
Specifically, on May 29, 2015, Lloyd, while represented by
counsel and in consideration of a sum of money, signed a
release (the “General Release”) that provided in
pertinent part as follows:
I, Jimmie Lloyd, . . . do hereby release and discharge
defendants [certain police officers]; their successors or
assigns; the City of New York; and all past and present
officials, employees, representatives, and agents of the City
of New York or any entity represented by the Office of the
Corporation Counsel, . . . from any and all liability,
claims, or rights of action alleging a violation of my civil
rights and any and all related state law claims,
from the beginning of the world to the date of this
General Release, including claims for costs, expenses,
and attorneys' fees.
(Def. 56.1 ¶¶ 3-5; General Release, Doc. No. 48,
Ex. C (emphasis added).) Because Lloyd's December 18,
2014 arrest predated his execution of the General Release,
Defendants argued that Lloyd had released the claims asserted
in this case, along with all other civil rights claims he
might have had against the City or its employees on or before
May 29, 2015, and that his claims were therefore barred.
(Doc. No. 34.) After another pre-motion conference, at which
Lloyd confirmed that he had signed the General Release (Def.
56.1 ¶ 9), Defendants filed their motion for summary
judgment on January 23, 2017, and Lloyd - now represented by
counsel - filed his opposition on March 2, 2017 (Doc. Nos.
46-50, 52). The motion was fully briefed on March 13, 2017.
(Doc. No. 53.)
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
“[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant
shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). There is “no genuine
dispute as to any material fact” where (1) the parties
agree on all facts (that is, there are no disputed facts);
(2) the parties disagree on some or all facts, but a
reasonable fact-finder could never accept the nonmoving
party's version of the facts (that is, there are no
genuinely disputed facts), see Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587
(1986); or (3) the parties disagree on some or all facts, but
even on the nonmoving party's version of the facts, the
moving party would win as a matter of law (that is, none of
the factual disputes are material), see Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
determining whether a fact is genuinely disputed, the court
“is not to weigh the evidence but is instead required
to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party
opposing summary judgment, to draw all reasonable inferences
in favor of that party, and to eschew credibility
assessments.” Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845,
854 (2d Cir. 1996). Nevertheless, to show a genuine dispute,
the nonmoving party must provide “hard evidence,
” D'Amico v. City of New York, 132 F.3d
145, 149 (2d Cir. 1998), “from which a reasonable
inference in [its] favor may be drawn, ” Binder
& Binder PC v. Barnhart, 481 F.3d 141, 148 (2d Cir.
2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Conclusory
allegations, conjecture, and speculation, ” Kerzer
v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998), as
well as the existence of a mere “scintilla of evidence
in support of the [nonmoving party's] position, ”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, are insufficient to
create a genuinely disputed fact. A moving party is
“entitled to judgment as a matter of law” on an
issue if (1) it bears the burden of proof on the issue and
the undisputed facts meet that burden; or (2) the nonmoving
party bears the burden of proof on the issue and the moving
party “‘show[s]' - that is, point[s] out . .
. - that there is an absence of evidence [in the record] to
support the nonmoving party's [position].”
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).
“Summary judgment is appropriate [in a contract
dispute] if the terms of the contract are unambiguous.”
Fischer & Mandell, LLP v. Citibank, N.A., 632
F.3d 793, 799 (2d Cir. 2011).
settlement agreement is a contract that is interpreted
according to general principles of contract law.”
Omega Eng'g, Inc. v. Omega, S.A., 432 F.3d 437,
443 (2d Cir. 2005). Although “federal law governs the
validity of releases of federal causes of action, ”
courts in this Circuit “look to state [contract] law to
provide the content of federal law” in cases
challenging the validity of such releases. Olin Corp. v.
Consol. Aluminum Corp., 5 F.3d 10, 15 (2d Cir. 1993);
see also Fernandez v. City of New York, 502 F.
App'x 48, 50 (2d Cir. 2012). Here, the General Release
does not include a choice of law provision, and the parties
do not address choice of law in their papers. Nevertheless,
because the parties have “impliedly manifested their
acquiescence to New York law controlling” the
interpretation of the General Release by relying exclusively
on New York law in their submissions, DER Travel Servs.,
Inc. v. Dream Tours & Adventures, Inc., No.
99-cv-2231 (HBP), 2005 WL 2848939, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 28,
2005) (collecting authorities), the Court will apply New York
law. “Under New York law, a release that is clear and
unambiguous on its face and which is knowingly and
voluntarily entered into will be enforced.” Arzu v.
City of New York, No. 13-cv-5980 (RA), 2015 WL 4635602,
at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 3, 2015) (citing Pampillonia v. RJR
Nabisco. Inc., 138 F.3d 459, 463 (2d Cir. 1998);
Skluth v. United Merchants & Mfrs., Inc., 163
A.D.2d 104, 106 (1st Dep't 1990)); see also Tromp v.
City of New York, 465 F. App'x 50, 51 (2d Cir. 2012)
(“Where the language of [a] release is clear, effect
must be given to the intent of the parties as indicated by
the language employed.”); Davis & Assocs., Inc.
v. Health Mgmt. Servs., Inc., 168 F.Supp.2d 109, 113
(S.D.N.Y. 2001) (“[A] release is binding on the parties
absent a showing of fraud, duress, undue influence, or some
other valid legal defense.”).
General Release in this case is quite clear. It
“release[s] and discharge[s] . . . the City of New
York and all past and present officials, employees,
representatives, and agents of the City of New York or any
entity represented by the Office of the Corporation Counsel .
. . from any and all liability, claims, or rights of action
alleging a violation of [Lloyd's] civil rights . . . from
the beginning of the world to the date of this General
Release [May 29, 2015] . . . .” (General Release.) The
language unambiguously precludes Lloyd from bringing civil
rights claims that accrued before May 29, 2015 against the
City or its employees. Since the events giving rise to the
civil rights claims in this case occurred on December 18,
2014, Lloyd released those claims as part of the settlement
agreement in Lloyd I, and he is barred from bringing
them against the City and the police officers here. Indeed,
“courts in this Circuit have consistently concluded
that similarly phrased releases between federal civil rights
claimants and the City of New York bar suit against the City
and its employees for alleged conduct predating the
release.” Staples v. Officer Acolatza, No.
14-cv-3922 (WHP), 2016 WL 4533560, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 9,
2016); see, e.g., Dinkins v. Decoteau, No.
15-cv-8914 (GHW), 2016 WL 3637169, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. June 29,
2016); Arzu, 2015 WL 4635602, at *4; Roberts v.
Doe 1, No. 14-cv-9174 (RMB) (AJP), 2015 WL 670180, at *5
(S.D.N.Y. Feb. 17, 2015); Walbrook v. Reilly, 56
F.Supp.3d 176, 177 (E.D.N.Y. 2014); Jeffers v. City of
New York, No. 14-cv-5659 (BMC), 2014 WL 6675676, at *1
(E.D.N.Y. Nov. 25, 2014); Muhammad v. Schriro, No.
13-cv-1962 (PKC), 2014 WL 4652564, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 18,
2014); Cuadrado v. Zito, No. 13-cv-3321 (VB), 2014
WL 1508609, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 21, 2014); Smith v. City
of New York, No. 12-cv-3303 (CM), 2013 WL 5434144, at *5
(S.D.N.Y. Sept. 26, 2013); Robinson v. Pierce, No.
11-cv-5516 (GBD) (AJP), 2012 WL 833221, at *6-8 (S.D.N.Y.
Mar. 13, 2012).
arguments to the contrary are unpersuasive. He first contends
that the parties could not have intended to release the
claims in this case because Defendants had no knowledge of
their existence at the time the parties settled Lloyd
I. (Opp'n at 2, 5.) But Defendants' knowledge of
Lloyd's other claims at the time the release was executed
is of no moment. “The best evidence of what parties to
a written agreement intend is what they say in their writing,
” Springle v. City of New York, No. 11-cv-8827
(NRB), 2013 WL 592656, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 14, 2013)
(quoting Greenfield v. Philles Records, Inc., 98
N.Y.2d 562, 569 (2002)), and the writing here plainly
releases any and all claims as of a certain date, regardless
of either party's knowledge of the possible existence of
any other claims. See, e.g., Dinkins, 2016
WL 3637169, at *3 (“To the extent that [plaintiff
argues] that he understood the release to only bar claims on
which no action had been taken prior to the execution of the
General Release, . . . the unambiguous language of the