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Nathaniel v. City of New York

United States District Court, E.D. New York

September 6, 2017

BRANDON NATHANIEL; and HASSAN SHEFTALL, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK; SERGEANT JOHN COLYE; POLICE OFFICER KEVIN DELEON; POLICE OFFICER SALVATORE MELORE; and POLICE OFFICER JOHN DOE #1-11, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Brandon Nathaniel and Hassan Sheftall commenced this action against the City of New York (the “City”) and several New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) police officers (collectively, the “defendants”), alleging civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and related state law. (See generally Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 15).)[1] Before the Court is defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(c), based on the affirmative defense of release of claims. (See Mot. Dismiss (Doc. No. 28).) For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted, and the case is dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         Prior to filing this lawsuit, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the City and multiple NYPD police officers, alleging violations of their civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Nathaniel v. City of New York, No. 14-CV-3471 (BMC) (“Nathaniel I”). Plaintiffs later settled the action, and as part of the settlement agreement, on May 14, 2015, each plaintiff signed a general release that released the City and its employees from “any and all liability, claims, or rights of action alleging a violation of [plaintiffs'] 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 attorney's fees.” (See Nathaniel Release (Doc. No. 29-1) at ¶ 1; Sheftall Release (Doc. No. 29-2) at ¶ 1, (collectively, the “Releases”).)[2] The language of the Releases was also included in the Stipulation of Settlement. (See Stipulation of Settlement (Doc. No. 36-5) at 5.)[3]

         In the case at hand (“Nathaniel II”), plaintiffs allege that they were unlawfully stopped by NYPD police officers on November 14, 2014, February 3, 2015, and February 26, 2015. (See generally Am. Compl.) Plaintiffs contend that the General Release in Nathaniel I - which bars claims “from the beginning of the world” to May 14, 2015 - does not bar the current claims.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to Rule 12(c), “[a]fter the pleadings are closed . . . a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate only where all material facts are undisputed and, “a judgment on the merits is possible merely by considering the contents of the pleadings.” Mennella v. Office of Court Admin., 938 F.Supp. 128, 131 (E.D.N.Y. 1996), aff'd, 164 F.3d 618 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988)). In all other respects, a motion brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is analyzed under the same standard applicable to a motion under Rule 12(b)(6). See Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills, 259 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001); Burnette v. Carothers, 192 F.3d 52, 56 (2d Cir. 1999). Thus, the Court's review is limited to the facts alleged or incorporated by reference in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint, and matters of which the Court may take judicial notice. See Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 153 (2d Cir. 2002); Diamond v. Local 807 Labor-Mgmt. Pension Fund, No. 12-CV-5559 (RRM) (VVP), 2014 WL 527898, at *1 n.1 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 7, 2014).

         The Court assumes the truth of the facts alleged and draws all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant's favor. See Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 71 (2d Cir. 2009). To withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150, 161 (2d Cir. 2010). Although the complaint need not contain “‘detailed factual allegations, '” simple “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009).

         DISCUSSION

         A settlement agreement and release are contracts, and are thus construed according to general principles of contract law. Collins v. Harrison-Bode, 303 F.3d 429, 433 (2d Cir. 2002). Under New York law, which the parties agree is controlling here, when a party disputes the meaning of particular contract clauses, the initial question for the court is whether the contract is unambiguous. Law Debenture Trust Co. v. Maverick Tube Corp., 595 F.3d 458, 465 (2d Cir. 2010). “Ambiguity is determined by looking within the four corners of the document, not to outside sources . . . .” Kass v. Kass, 91 N.Y.2d 554, 566, 673 N.Y.S.2d 350, 356, 696 N.E.2d 174 (1998). Contract language is not ambiguous “where it has a definite and precise meaning, unattended by danger of misconception in the purport of the contract itself, and concerning which there is no reasonable basis for difference of opinion.” JA Apparel Corp. v. Abboud, 568 F.3d 390, 396 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal quotations and citation omitted). “Language whose meaning is otherwise plain does not become ambiguous merely because the parties urge different interpretations in the litigation.” Hunt Ltd v. Lifschultz Fast Freight, Inc., 889 F.2d 1274, 1277 (2d Cir. 1989). Rather, a contract is ambiguous if the terms of the contract “could suggest more than one meaning when viewed objectively by a reasonably intelligent person who has examined the context of the entire integrated agreement . . . .” Id. at 466 (quoting Int'l Multifoods Corp. v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 309 F.3d 76, 83 (2d Cir. 2002)). Whether a written contract is ambiguous is a question of law for the Court. Id.

         Here, plaintiffs agreed to release the City and “all past and present officials, employees, representatives, and agents of the City . . . from any and all liability, claims, or rights of action alleging a violation of [their] civil rights and any and all related state law claims, from the beginning of the world to the date of [the Releases], ” which was May 14, 2015. The language of the Releases is unambiguous.[4] See Dinkins v. Decoteau, No. 15-CV-8914 (GHW), 2016 WL 3637169, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. June 29, 2016) (holding that identical wording was unambiguous); Cuadrado v. Zito, No. 13-CV-3321 (VB), 2014 WL 1508609, at *2-3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 21, 2014) (same); Waters v. Douglas, No. 12-CV-1910 (PKC), 2012 WL 5834919, at *3-4 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 14, 2012) (same). As police officers employed by the NYPD, defendants qualify as “past or present employees” of the City. This lawsuit, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and related state law, alleges violations of plaintiffs' civil rights. Finally, plaintiffs released all claims “from the beginning of the world” to the “date of this General Release, ” which would include all claims prior to May 15, 2015, the date the Releases were executed. Accordingly, the claims asserted in the instant complaint - occurring on November 14, 2014, February 3, 2015, and February 26, 2015 - are barred by the Releases. See, e.g., A.A. Truck Renting Corp. v. Navistar, Inc., 81 A.D.3d 674, 675 (2011) (“[W]ords of general release are clearly operative not only as to all controversies and causes of action between the releasor and releasees which had, by that time, actually ripened into litigation, but to all such issues which might then have been adjudicated as a result of pre-existent controversies.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         CONCLUSION

         For the reasons set forth above, defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. No. 28) is granted, and the case is dismissed.[5]See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). The Clerk of Court is ...


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