United States District Court, D. New Jersey
JOSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the court on Motion of Defendants Postal
Transport, Inc. and Clifford Finkle IV to Enforce Settlement.
The Court has considered the written submissions of the
parties as well as the arguments advanced at the hearing on
October 31, 2017. For the reasons stated on the record that
day, as well as those that follow, Defendants' motion is
was employed by Postal Transport as a truck driver
responsible for the transport of mail pursuant to a contract
awarded by the U.S. Postal Service, which sets the
drivers' pay and benefits rates. The Amended Complaint
alleges, among other things, that Defendants violated the
Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay Plaintiff the
proper wage rate for hours worked in violation of 29 U.S.C.
§ 201 et seq. Am Compl., ¶1. (Ex. A). In addition,
Plaintiff alleges retaliation and a whistleblower claim.
the initial stages of discovery, the parties, disagreeing on
a specific total came to agree that Plaintiff would be
entitled to not more than $1, 600 if he prevailed on his wage
loss claims. See Emails, Def. Exs. B, C, & D.
Defendants served an Offer of Judgment on September 30, 2016
in the amount of $2, 000.00. Def. Ex. E. Settlement
discussions ensued and on November 23, 2016 Plaintiff agreed
to settle the matter for $5, 000.00 in exchange for a release
from Plaintiff on “all claims brought, or which could
have been brought, to date, including counsel fees and
costs.” The agreement was memorialized in email as
Plaintiff's Counsel: John, I spoke to my
client and he will agree to 5, 000 (sic) nothing less.
Defendants' Counsel: Finkle will pay $5,
000 for a release from all claims brought, or which could
have been brought, to date, including counsel fees and costs.
If that's (sic) agreed I'll have Vik Jaitly prepare a
Settlement Agreement and Release. Please Confirm. John
Plaintiff's Counsel: Yes agreed.
See Nov. 23, 2016 Email Exchange, Defs. Ex. F.
parties began drafting the written agreement. Defendants sent
a draft settlement agreement to Plaintiff on December 5,
2016. See Defs. Ex. G. Plaintiff sent comments on
that draft on December 15, 2016 and advised that
Plaintiff's counsel intended to “notify the court
today via letter . . . that we have reached an agreement and
are working on the written document.” Id. at
Exs. H & I. There is no indication on the docket that
Plaintiff's counsel ever advised the court of the
there was no disagreement on the amount of the settlement,
the parties sparred over whether, as a matter of law, the
settlement proceeds allocated to the Form 1099 payment would
be considered taxable income and whether Defendants would
provide a mutual release to Plaintiff. On December 21, 2016,
the parties engaged in further discussion on the impediments
to memorializing the settlement into writing. Plaintiff's
counsel stated that the problematic issues concerned the
allocation of the award as income versus other damages,
Plaintiff's insistence that the release be mutual, and
Defendants' insistence that Plaintiff sign a class action
waiver. Id. at Exs. J, K, L. Counsel further stated
that Defendants' alleged continued retaliation placed the
settlement in jeopardy. Id. Unable to resolve these
terms, Plaintiff's counsel announced that the
“settlement is off.” Id. Ex. J.
Defendants informed Plaintiff's counsel that Defendants
agreed to Plaintiff's allocation of the settlement
proceeds, so long as Plaintiff agreed to be responsible for
any tax payments owed as a result of the settlement. On
February 24, 2017, Defendants also agreed to provide
Plaintiff a mutual release as Plaintiff has requested and
sent to Plaintiff an updated settlement agreement reflecting
these changes. See Def. Ex. K. The parties never
signed the agreement and never requested a settlement
conference with the magistrate judge. Discovery resumed and
Defendants filed the instant motion.
Jersey has a strong public policy in favor of settlements.
Nolan v. Lee Ho, 577 A.2d 143, 146 (N.J. 1990);
Dep't of Pub. Advocate v. N.J. Bd. of Pub.
Util., 503 A.2d 331, 333 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. 1985)
(Courts “strain to give effect to the terms of a
settlement wherever possible.”). Disputes involving
settlement agreements are governed by general principles of
local contract law. Mortellite v. Novartis Crop Prot.,
Inc., 460 F.3d 483, 492 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing
Borough of Haledon v. Borough of N. Haledon, 817
A.2d 965, 975 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. 2003)). Generally,
“[a] settlement stipulation should not be enforced
‘where there appears to have been an absence of
mutuality of accord between the parties or their attorneys in
some substantial particulars, or the stipulated agreement is
incomplete in some of its material and essential
terms.'” Bistricer v. Bistricer, 555 A.2d
45, 47 ( N.J.Super. Ct. Ch. Div. 1987) (quoting Kupper v.
Barger, 111 A.2d, 73, 74-75 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div.
can be enforced, however, when non-essential terms are
unresolved. As the Bistricer court explained:
[I]t is not necessary for a writing to contain every possible
contractual provision to cover every contingency in order to
qualify as a completed binding agreement. Some of these
issues may be determined by the operation of law, or the
parties may resolve such differences by a subsequent
agreement or a contract may be silent in those respects. In
any event a contract is no less a contract because some
preferable clauses may be omitted either deliberately or by
neglect. So long as the ...