This is a motion for summary judgment in favor of defendant United States Lines (hereinafter referred to as U.S. Lines) and against plaintiff Willie Wilson, and a cross-motion for an order striking defendant's first separate defense predicated upon the validity of a release executed by plaintiff. Both sides have submitted affidavits and briefs.
The facts reveal that plaintiff Willie Wilson is a truck driver for Harbor Motor Express, Inc. Pursuant to his employment he made a pickup at U.S. Lines in Port Elizabeth. While there Wilson was detained and subsequently arrested for possession of stolen property following the discovery of tires belonging to U.S. Lines on the truck he was driving, which truck was owned by Harbor Motor Express, Inc. Plaintiff Wilson, in effect, denied the charge.
On or about May 15, 1970, a few days before the scheduled preliminary hearing on this charge in the Elizabeth Municipal Court, Wilson went to U.S. Lines to request that the charges against him be dropped. It was decided that U.S. Lines would drop its complaint if, as asserted by defendant, the stolen tires were returned, payment was made to U.S. Lines for damage to the tires, and a general release of any and all claims arising out of the arrest for any claim of false arrest, malicious prosecution or abuse of
process was signed by Wilson. Plaintiff denies any previous agreement to the release or any discussion of this at this time. Wilson asserts it was not until May 18, 1970, at the preliminary hearing, that he first learned of these prior conditions. However, at the time immediately preceding the hearing all parties agreed to these terms and the release was given and the complaint dismissed.
The facts do not reveal, nor does plaintiff assert, that there was any fraud perpetrated upon him in the execution of this release. In fact, it appears that Wilson had legal advice with respect to his initial claim arising out of his arrest, as well as advice from his employer at the time of the release signing.
Wilson then filed a complaint against U.S. Lines for malicious prosecution and malicious abuse of process. Defendant in its answer asserted as an affirmative defense the release which Wilson had given it. On the basis of this release defendant now moves for summary judgment. Plaintiff opposes the motion and files a cross-motion for an order striking this defense.
Plaintiff in his cross-motion also requests that R. 1:1-2, which permits the relaxation of the rules where, among other things, simplicity of procedure is best served, be employed so that his cross-motion may be heard simultaneously with the motion for summary judgment in violation of R. 1:6-3. R. 1:6-3 requires motions to be filed no later than eight days before the time set for hearing. With this request the court has complied, for it does appear that simplicity of procedure would be served and no unjust result would be created.
With respect to the cross-motion for an order striking defendant's first separate defense predicated upon the validity of a release executed by plaintiff, it is the opinion of this court that the motion should be granted. The defense of release and the respective motions of the parties in connection with this defense raises the question of the validity of the release.
First, this court questions the substantive validity of the release. Is an agreement to forebear prosecuting a criminal offense in exchange for the forebearance of a civil claim a valid agreement? This is a question of law to be decided.
It is fundamental law that a release is valid when dealing with the forebearance of a litigant's civil rights. United & Glove Rubber Manufacturing Co. v. Conard , 80 N.J.L. 286 (E. & A. 1910). However, this court is of the opinion that an agreement to ...