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Soto v. The County of Westchester

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 22, 2018

Henry Soto, Plaintiff,
v.
The County of Westchester, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          ALISON J. NATHAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Henry Soto, proceeding pro se, seeks to re-open this case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60. Plaintiffs action against the County of Westchester and the Westchester County Department of Corrections (together, "Defendants") was settled in October 2010 and dismissed with prejudice. However, Soto now contends that he neither consented to this settlement nor received any of its proceeds. He accordingly seeks vacatur of the settlement agreement. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs motion is DENIED.

         I. Background

         On June 3, 2008, Plaintiff filed suit against the County of Westchester and the Westchester County Department of Corrections. See Complaint, Dkt. No. 1 ("Compl."). Soto alleged that he was attacked and beaten by other inmates while in the Defendants' custody. Compl. ¶ 13. He argued that the Defendants negligently failed to provide for his safety and sought an unspecified amount of compensatory damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. ¶ 16. The Defendants denied Plaintiffs factual allegations, argued that they acted in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, and raised various affirmative defenses under § 1983 and the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996. See Answer, Dkt. No. 4.

         In October 2010, the parties reached a settlement agreement, and the Honorable Kevin Thomas Duffy, to whom this action was this action was then assigned, dismissed the action with prejudice. See Dkt. No. 15. The settlement required the Defendants to pay Soto $2, 500 in exchange for his release of all claims against them. See Dkt. No. 23 ("Def. Resp."), Ex. D.

         In proceedings separate from this action, Soto's attorney, Stephen R. Krawitz, pleaded guilty to stealing settlement proceeds obtained for the clients of his law firm. See Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., DA Vance: Former Attorney Sentenced to 4-to-12 Years in State Prison for Stealing Nearly $2 Million from More Than 50 Personal Injury Clients, THE NEW YORK COUNTY DISTRICT Attorney's Office (Sept. 29, 2015), http://www.manhattanda.org/press-release/da-vance-former-attorney-sentenced-4-12-years-state-prison-stealing-nearly-2-million-m ("DA Press Release"). "Between November 2008 and March 2014, KRAWITZ stole approximately $1, 913, 155 from more than 50 clients by depositing their settlement checks into his Interest on Lawyer Accounts ('IOLA') and using the money for his own personal benefit." Id. The New York State Supreme Court sentenced him to four to twelve years' imprisonment. Id.

         Shortly thereafter, in November 2015, Plaintiff filed a letter with the Court alleging that he never agreed to settle this action and did not receive any proceeds from the 2010 settlement. See Dkt. Nos. 18. Soto argued that Krawitz forged his signature on the settlement agreement and subsequently misappropriated, for himself, all funds paid by the Defendants. Dkt. No. 18. Krawitz represented the Plaintiff for the entirety of his original action. See Def. Resp. at 6.

         The Plaintiff did not characterize his submissions to the Court as being brought pursuant to Rule 60 or any other Federal Rule of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 18. However, "it is well established that the submissions of a pro se litigant must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (citation and internal quotation omitted). Accordingly, even though Plaintiff did not formally advance a legal theory under Rule 60, after the case was reassigned to the undersigned in early 2017, the Court ordered that his filings be construed as such, and ordered the Defendants to respond. See Dkt. No. 22.

         Defendants claim that they had no reason to doubt the legitimacy of this attorney-client relationship at the time. Def. Resp. at 6. What is purportedly Soto's signature appears on the 2010 settlement. Ex. D. Additionally, the Defendants have introduced into the record a payment voucher showing that they disbursed the $2, 500 owed to Soto under the settlement agreement to Krawitz in 2010. Ex. E. They argue that they are presently "without any recourse to recover the funds" from Krawitz. Def. Resp. at 6.

         II. Plaintiffs Rule 60(b) Claim is Denied

         The Plaintiffs submissions raise a cognizable claim under Rule 60(b). However, because the Plaintiff fails to satisfy Rule 60(b)'s timeliness requirement, his claim is denied.

         A. Legal Standard

         Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides:

         On motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, ...


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