United States District Court, D. New Jersey
February 27, 2004.
ALBERT JACKSON. Plaintiff,
DELAWARE RIVER AND BAY AUTHORITY, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSEPH IRENAS, District Judge
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
TO STRIKE THE RELEASE DEFENSE
This matter having appeared before the Court upon Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Cross-Motion to Strike the Release
Defense, the Court having reviewed the submissions of the parties, and it
1. This case is the latest development in what appears to be a long
standing dispute between the Plaintiff, Albert Jackson ("Jackson") and
the Defendant, the Delaware River and Bay Authority ("DBRA"). Jackson,
once an employee of the DRBA, currently seeks to recover damages from his
former employer on account of a congenital food injury allegedly exacerbated by DBRA
2. Albert Jackson is a seaman formerly employed by the DRBA as a crew
member of various vessels, including the Cape May, Twin Capes and the
Delaware. In December, 2000, while still working for the DRBA, Jackson
became aware of a painful condition in his feet. After seeing several
doctors, including one recommended by the DRBA, Jackson was told that he
required orthotic shoe implants. Jackson alleges that the DRBA
negligently failed to furnish him with orthotics. This failure has
resulted in operations to Jackson's feet, additional knee injuries and
emotional distress. It has also apparently rendered Jackson completely
unable to work.
3. Jackson filed his Complaint pursuant to the Jones Act,
46 U.S.C. § 688, and general maritime law.*fn1 He specifically seeks:
(1) damages resulting from the DBRA's failure to pay maintenance and cure
in connection with the foot condition; (2) punitive damages based on the
DBRA's negligent failure to provide orthotics; and (3) a retroactive wage
increase for the final months of his employment, based on union
negotiations that concluded after his employment.*fn2 4. The legal history between Jackson and the DRBA, however, begins
before the Complaint was filed in this action. Jackson was one of three
plaintiffs who previously brought a racial discrimination case against the
DRBA in 2002. On the second day of trial before Judge Simandle, June 12,
2002, the parties executed a handwritten memorandum which specifically
stated that Jackson was releasing "all claims" against the DRBA. (Def's
Ex. 12). Shortly thereafter, Judge Simandle held a hearing on the record
to make certain that Jackson and his co-plaintiffs understood and
accepted the terms of the settlement. Jackson replied affirmatively.
(Def's Ex. 11).
6. The settlement was formalized and executed on July 1, 2002.
According to its terms, Jackson received a lump sum payment of
$125,000.00 and an acceleration of his retirement pension. (Def's Ex.
4). The pension payments are collectively worth $135,165.96. The
settlement also extends life, health, dental and vision insurance
coverage to Jackson and his wife.
7. In addition to releasing his claims against the DRBA, Jackson agreed
to: (1) resign his employment, effective June 16, 2002; (2) never seek
employment with the DRBA in the future; and (3) restrict himself to only
that DRBA property which was open to the public. The DBRA's counsel
explained that because of Jackson's propensity to file complaints and claims during his tenure with
the DRBA, the settlement was designed to "buy peace entirely." (Def's
Ex. 15 at 31-32, 41-43, 50-51).
8. The DRBA brings its current motion for summary judgment on the
theory that Jackson's present claims are barred by the terms of the
settlement agreement and Jackson's release of all present and future
claims.*fn3 Jackson cross-moves to strike the release as a defense to
his claims. The Court will grant the DRBA's motion for summary judgment
and deny Jackson's motion to strike the release as a defense. Original
jurisdiction to hear this action at maritime law is based on
28 U.S.C. § 1333.
9. The issue present in this case is the validity of the release of all
future claims as specified in the settlement between Jackson and the DRBA
of July 1, 2002. According to the Supreme Court, seaman are entitled to
special protection in legal matters, and accordingly, there is a two-part
test to determine the enforceability of a seaman's release. Garrett
v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239 (1942). First, a court must determine whether the release
was executed freely, without deception or coercion. Id. at 248. Second, a
court must examine whether the seaman entered the settlement with a full
understanding of his rights. Id. The adequacy of consideration and the
nature of the medical and legal advice available to the seaman are key
issues in the analysis of this understanding. Id.
10. As to the first element of the Garrett test, there was no deception
or coercion in the negotiation of Jackson's release. The settlement
reached between Jackson and the DRBA was the product of significant
negotiation between the parties, and Judge Simandle held a special
hearing to ensure that the decision was freely and voluntarily made.
During that hearing, Jackson's attorney specifically stated that the
settlement was only reached "after going back and forth for hours."
(Def's. Ex. 11). Further, Judge Simandle directly asked Jackson whether
he entered the agreement voluntarily. Jackson replied affirmatively. Id.
It cannot be said that there was any coercion or deception that took
place during the negotiation of the settlement.
11. Jackson, obviously disagrees with this notion, but his description
of deception and coercion is in fact unrelated to the negotiation of the
settlement. Jackson argues that Leo Long of the DRBA's Benefits
Department and Bonnie Miller of DBRA Risk Management consistently mislead
him while he pursued an administrative remedy for his foot injury. Jackson further maintains that
Mr. Long and Ms. Miller's alleged misbehavior caused him to believe that
his foot condition was not a legitimate claim that because it was
congenital, he could not recover against his employer for it. (Pl's. Br.
12. Nevertheless, this argument only addresses the initial handling of
Jackson's foot condition, not the negotiation of his release of all
claims on June 12, 2002. A court must examine "whether there is any
appearance of `taint or fraud, deception, coercion or overreaching . . .
in the negotiations eventuating in the settlement.'" Borne v. A & P Boat
Rentals No. 4, Inc., 780 F.2d 1254, 1257 (5th Cir. 1986) (quoting Strange
v. Gulf & South American Steamship Co., Inc., 495 F.2d 1235, 1236 (5th
Cir. 1974)). There is nothing in this case to suggest that the
negotiations on the second day of trial before Judge Simandle were
deceptive or coercive in any way, and therefore, this Court finds that
the release was executed freely.
13. The second element of the Garrett test to evaluate the
enforceability of a seaman's release is an examination of whether upon
entering the release, the seaman fully understood his rights. Of note in
making this determination is the adequacy of consideration and the nature
of legal and medical advice given to the seaman. In this case, Jackson is
a sophisticated and experienced litigant. This Court finds little doubt
that he entered into the settlement agreement with a full understanding of
the claims he was relinquishing. Further, Jackson received ample
consideration for his release, and he was well appraised of his medical
and legal situation while negotiating.
14. Jackson naturally argues here that he was unaware of the full
impact of releasing "all" of his claims against the DRBA in the July 1,
2002 settlement. In assessing that notion, some discussion of Jackson's
litigious history is warranted.
15. Jackson has filed no less than eight injury reports with the DRBA
during his employment, for injuries including a finger puncture, stomach
muscle strain, a concussion sustained from a falling lifeboat and a
headache from paint fumes. (Def's Ex. 1 at. 27-40). Jackson has initiated
at least three lawsuits against the National Maritime Union on claims
ranging from RICO violations and racketeering to a contract violation. In
two of those cases, Jackson signed releases in exchange for a significant
monetary settlement, as he did here, (Def's Ex. 1 at 41-49). Jackson has
also sued at least three former employers: Farrell Lines, Texaco, and
Gulf Oil. (Def's Ex. 1 at 49-56). The lawsuit against Farrell Lines was
for a knee injury, and it settled for $35,000.00. Id. Jackson has also
filed multiple claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
("EEOC") and the National Labor Relations Board.
16. As a plaintiff before Judge Simandle on June 12, 2002, therefore, Jackson was no stranger to a courtroom or to settlement
negotiations. Having nettled at least three cases, likely more, prior to
that date, it is hard to believe that he did not understand that, a
release of "all" claims against the DRBA would preclude further action
against his employer. This idea is bolstered by the fact that a Mr.
McKoy, a co-plaintiff before Judge Simandle, orally preserved a workers'
compensation. claim in his settlement agreement with the DRBA.*fn4 From
McKoy's example, it should have been clear to Jackson that if he wanted
to preserve any claims, he would have to specify them in the settlement
17. In further arguing that his understanding of his rights at the time
of settlement was incomplete, Jackson contests that he was unaware of any potential claim arising from his congenital
foot condition. This argument appears to be at least partially untrue.
Prior to the settlement, Jackson had actively pursued a claim for
maintenance and cure with the DRBA. Jackson filed a grievance with the
DRBA (Pl's. Ex. 14), and subsequently filed an EEOC grievance listing his
foot injury (Def's. Ex. 1 at 101-05). Further, Jackson had active
discussions with his attorney about the foot injury claim in August,
2001, evidenced in an email he wrote on the subject. (Def's. Ex, 26).
Though Jackson now maintains that he was unaware of his foot injury claim
at the time of settlement, Jackson's prior behavior betrays a keen
awareness of legal options.
18. The Garrett opinion also counsels that a court should look to the
adequacy of consideration and the medical and legal advice available to a
seaman in determining whether he fully understood his rights at the time
of settlement. Garrett, 317 U.S. at 248. The consideration that Jackson
received in the settlement was more than adequate. The settlement
featured a lump sum payment of $125,000.00 and an acceleration of
Jackson's retirement benefits valued at $135,165.96. Jackson seems to
argue that because there was no amount specifically allocated to his foot
claim in the prior settlement, the overall consideration paid was
19. While the foot injury is not mentioned in the settlement itself, Jackson tails to note that the DRBA's insurance
carrier paid only $35,000.00 for the discrimination claim in the prior
case. The $90,000.00 remainder of the lump sum and the entire
retirement, package was paid by the DBRA to essentially buy a release of
all possible claims and sever the relationship with Jackson entirely. The
potential foot claim certainly falls under that compensatory umbrella.
Further, cases overturned for inadequate compensation generally do not
involve amounts in excess of $250,000.00. See Morris v. Fidelity &
Casualty Co. of N.Y., 1971 AMC 695 (E.D. La, 1970)(finding $350.00 an
Inadequate settlement for a broken jaw where plaintiff had a
court-appointed attorney): Borne, 780 F.2d at 1256-57 (finding only
$9,000.00 an adequate settlement for a back injury where negotiations
were fairly conducted by attorneys).
20. Jackson was also in possession of ample medical and legal advice.
He consulted two doctors about his foot condition, Dr. Michael Prime and
Dr. Michael Centrella. (Def's. Ex, 21, 22). There is no doubt that
Jackson was medically aware of his foot condition when he released all
claims against the DRBA. Jackson was also represented by counsel
throughout, the prior lawsuit and the settlement negotiations by Joseph
Grassi and Sidney L. Gold. Mr. Grassi specifically reviewed the terms of
Jackson's release with him. (Def's Ex. 1 at 119). Considering this advice
and Jackson's prior history as a litigant, there can similarly be little doubt that Jackson was fully aware of his legal
position during settlement, negotiations.
21. The Court finds no deception or coercion in the settlement
negotiations in the prior lawsuit, and also finds that Jackson entered
into the settlement with a full understanding of his rights.
Consequently, the release of all claims that Jackson signed is completely
enforceable, and it bars his current suit against, the DRBA.
And for good cause shown,
1. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
2. Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the Release Defense is DENIED as moot.