On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-0875-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Sabatino and Alvarez.
Plaintiff Russell G. Crawford appeals the Law Division's order granting summary judgment to defendant and dismissing his complaint, in which he sought certain retirement benefits based upon his interpretation of a settlement document. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
These are the pertinent facts. Plaintiff, who was born in June 1957, was hired as an investigator by New Jersey Transit Corporation ("NJ Transit") on June 1, 1981. He continued to work for NJ Transit for the next twenty-four years.
On October 1, 2005, plaintiff, who was then age forty-eight, took an unpaid sick leave, allegedly because of stress resulting from a hostile work environment. Plaintiff did not return to work again for NJ Transit.
In November 2005, plaintiff filed a complaint in the Law Division against NJ Transit and three supervisors at the company. He alleged discrimination on the basis of his race, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation.
Plaintiff's claims were ultimately resolved, pursuant to a settlement attained on February 2, 2008, and his initial lawsuit was consequently dismissed. Plaintiff entered into the settlement after receiving the advice of his counsel.
Pursuant to the terms of the settlement*fn1 , plaintiff was paid $25,000 by NJ Transit as consideration for relinquishing all causes of action that he had or could have brought against NJ Transit or its agents. His employment with NJ Transit was deemed terminated, effective February 2008.*fn2 In entering into the settlement, NJ Transit and its agents continued to deny any liability to plaintiff, including his accusations of discrimination.
Plaintiff signed a notarized release, witnessed by his attorney, in connection with the settlement. The release is three pages long and is dated February 2, 2008. Within paragraph two of that release, plaintiff agreed to the following terms relevant to the present appeal:
This releases all claims resulting from anything which has happened up to now, including but not limited to, all claims which were or could have been brought in the action entitled Russell G. Crawford v. New Jersey Transit Corp., [et al.], in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County, Docket No. ESX-L-9333-05.
This Release includes all claims made or which could have been brought as grievances under any collective bargaining agreement, and/or all claims made or which could have been brought in any other administrative or judicial proceeding. This Release includes all claims involving any continuing effects of actions or practices which arose prior to the date of this Release and I release the use in any way of any past action or practice in any subsequent claim. Provided however, this Release does not affect any vested rights to pension benefits which I might have. This Release is a compromise and in full settlement of all claims that I may have against You. [Emphasis added.]
Additionally, in paragraph three of the release, plaintiff acknowledged that the $25,000 settlement was "in full payment," and that "[i]n further consideration for this settlement, [he] agree[d] that [he would] not seek anything further ...