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Muhammad v. Dep't of Corrections

March 2, 2010

KWASI SEKOU MUHAMMAD, A/K/A MICHAEL WINSTEAD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge:

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion to enforce a settlement agreement [Docket Item 140], and Plaintiff's renewed motion for appointment of counsel [Docket Item 147]. As explained below, the Court will convene an evidentiary hearing before deciding the motion to enforce the settlement, and will deny Plaintiff's request for counsel to represent him at this hearing.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Kwasi Sekou Muhammad is an inmate who is presently confined at Northern State Prison in Newark, New Jersey, and who was previously confined at several other facilities. Plaintiff's left leg was amputated below the knee prior to his incarceration, and he consequently uses a prosthesis to ambulate. Plaintiff, initially proceeding pro se, filed two lawsuits related to his condition on September 26, 2005, Civil Action No. 05-4999 and Civil Action No. 05-5001.

Plaintiff's first Complaint (Civil Action No. 05-4999) was against the Department of Corrections ("DOC"), Correctional Medical Services, Inc. (the "CMS Defendants"), and Dr. Reddy, a physician who treated him. The suit alleged that in failing to provide him with physical therapy, the Defendants had been deliberately indifferent to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment; that this inadequate medical treatment violated Title II of the ADA; and that Dr. Reddy had committed medical malpractice in violation of New Jersey law. On sua sponte review, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim against the DOC and Plaintiff's ADA claim against Dr. Reddy, but permitted the rest to proceed, although it noted that these claims were possibly time-barred.*fn1

Plaintiff's second Complaint (Civil Action No. 05-5001) was filed against the DOC, CMS, two correctional officers, Williams and DeMaio, and his treating nurse, Nurse Terry. Plaintiff alleged that his transfer from the handicapped-accessible cell on the first floor to the upper bunk of a second-floor cell violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment and the ADA.

Plaintiff was appointed pro bono counsel on June 12, 2007 [Docket Item 61], and these two actions were subsequently consolidated by order of Magistrate Judge Donio on November 20, 2007 [Docket Item 81].

The DOC Defendants and CMS Defendants filed separate motions for summary judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims on the consolidated docket [Docket Items 96 and 97]. On November 12, 2008, the Court granted the motion for summary judgment of Defendants Reddy, Terry, and CMS as to all of Plaintiff's claims. The Court also granted the DOC's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's ADA claim arising out of the provision of inadequate medical treatment (Civil Action No. 05-4999), but denied the DOC's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's ADA claim arising out of the conditions of his confinement and denied Defendants Williams' and DeMaio's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claims (Civil Action No. 05-5001). Thus, Plaintiff's ADA claim arising out of the conditions of his confinement against the DOC and Eighth Amendment claims against Defendants Williams and DeMaio contained in Civil Action No. 05-5001 were to be decided at trial.

After the summary judgment order, Plaintiff and his counsel discussed settlement. On December 23, 2008, Plaintiff's attorney wrote to Plaintiff to memorialize the settlement authority he had been granted. (Muhammad Decl., Ex-A.) Under a subject line indicating that it was in reference to the consolidated cases, the letter states: "[Y]ou have authorized us to make a settlement proposal to the defendants in the amount of $14,000 with authority to negotiate towards a settlement in the vicinity of $10,000. We will present that proposal as soon as the year begins." (Id.) The letter does not indicate whether the authority was limited to any particular claims or any particular defendants, except insofar as the subject heading lists both cases.

Plaintiff contends that his authorization was only to settle the claims that survived summary judgment (Civil Action No. 05-5001), not his right to appeal the claims upon which the state defendants were granted summary judgment (Civil Action No. 05-4999). (Muhammad Decl., ¶2.)

On February 11, 2009, Plaintiff's counsel and Defendants' counsel agreed to a settlement of $15,000 with any outstanding judgments and/or liens against Plaintiff to be subtracted from the settlement amount. (Scott Decl., ¶ 4.) On February 13, 2009, Plaintiff's counsel notified the Court that the parties had reached a settlement agreement and were "in the process of finalizing the settlement language and obtaining the parties' signatures." (Scott Decl., Ex-G.) Accordingly, on February 19, 2009, the Court entered an Order of Dismissal in this matter. [Docket Item 128.]

Plaintiff was forwarded a copy of the negotiated release on February 13, 2009. The release indicated a deduction of $2,425 from the settlement figure based on various liens Defendant owed to the state based on some traffic infractions. (Muhammad Decl., Ex-B.) The release was for all claims made against DOC defendants in both Civil Action No. 05-5001 and Civil Action No. 05-4999, not just those claims contained in Civil Action No. 05-5001. (Id.)

Plaintiff claims that the contents of the release were not explained to him until a telephone conversation of February 24, a conversation mentioned in a letter sent on February 26. (Muhammad Decl., ΒΆ6 & Ex-E.) From the letter, it appears that Plaintiff raised some objections to the release, including the deduction of money he believed he ...


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