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Ezekwo v. Quirk

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 17, 2017



          Leda Dunn Wettre United States Magistrate Judge.

         Before the Court is the motion of defendant City of Englewood to enforce a settlement agreement and for reimbursement of costs and attorneys' fees (ECF No. 87), and the motion of plaintiffs pro se Chukwuemeka Ezekwo and Ifeoma Ezekwo to remand the case for trial (ECF No. 107). United States District Judge Susan D. Wigenton referred the motions to the undersigned for a Report and Recommendation. Having considered the parties' written submissions on the motions and the testimony and exhibits proffered at the evidentiary hearing before the Court held on November 6, 2017, for the reasons set forth in this Report and Recommendation, and for good cause shown, this Court recommends that defendants' motion to enforce the settlement be GRANTED, defendants' motion for costs and attorneys' fees be DENIED, and plaintiffs' motion to remand the case for trial be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is an action alleging deprivation of plaintiffs' federal civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution in connection with a physical confrontation between three City of Englewood police officers and the plaintiffs in Englewood Hospital, much of which was captured on videotape. See ECF No. 1.

         A procedural history of the settlement negotiations is necessary to place the motions in context. The Court held an initial settlement conference on February 2, 2017. During the conference, plaintiffs waited in the courtroom while the Court held settlement discussions with their counsel and defendants' counsel, alternatively, in the jury room of the undersigned's courtroom. The settlement conference concluded without a settlement, although all counsel agreed that discussions should be continued at a subsequent conference.

         The Court held a subsequent settlement conference on March 28, 2017. At that time, only counsel for the parties were present and none of the parties themselves. It was represented to the Court by plaintiffs' counsel that they were communicating the settlement positions to their clients by telephone. That conference was completed without a settlement having been reached, although me Court left counsel with a proposed settlement amount for both sides to consider.

         Shortly thereafter, on March 30, 2017, counsel jointly telephoned the Court to report that they had reached a settlement, pursuant to which defendant City of Englewood would pay plaintiffs $1.31 million in full and final resolution of the action. Accordingly, as is usual when a settlement in principle is reached, counsel consented to administrative closure of the case by 60-day Order. ECF No. 84.

         On May 31, 2017, defendants filed the instant motion to enforce settlement, asserting that settlement had not been consummated because plaintiffs refused to sign documents releasing defendants from the asserted claims in exchange for payment of the agreed settlement amount. ECF No. 87. Plaintiffs opposed this motion pro se, ECF No. 95, and subsequently notified the Court that they had terminated their counsel in this matter. ECF No. 102. Plaintiffs then filed an omnibus-style motion on July 28, 2017, seeking the recusal of the undersigned Magistrate Judge, a "change of venue, " and to "remand the case for trial." ECF Nos. 107, 108, 109. By Letter Order, the Court denied plaintiffs' request for recusal and change of venue on October 16, 2017. ECF No. 120.

         By Order of October 17, 2017, the Court scheduled an evidentiary hearing for November 3, 2017 to resolve factual issues relevant to the instant motions. ECF No. 121. The Court ordered defendants to identify the witnesses they intended to call at the hearing and the exhibits on which they planned to rely on or before October 23, 2017. Id.

         In compliance with that Order, defendants' filed a letter on October 18, 2017 identifying plaintiffs' former counsel as among the witnesses they planned to subpoena to testify at the evidentiary hearing. ECF No. 122. On October 30, 2017, plaintiffs filed a motion to quash the subpoenas on their former counsel and requested an indefinite adjournment of the hearing. ECF Nos. 130, 131.

         On October 30, 2017, the Court adjourned the evidentiary hearing from November 3, 2017 to November 6, 2017 upon notice to all parties. This adjournment was in part due to plaintiffs' failure to participate in status teleconferences regarding the hearing that the Court had scheduled. See ECF No. 129.

         The Court conducted the evidentiary hearing on November 6, 2017. Plaintiffs pro se and counsel for all defendants attended. At the outset of the hearing, the Court denied plaintiffs' motions to adjourn the hearing and to quash the subpoenas on their former counsel. See ECF No. 135. The hearing then proceeded, with defendants calling plaintiffs' former counsel, Michael Maggiano, Esq. and Antonio Romanucci, Esq., to testify. Plaintiffs cross-examined Messrs. Romanucci and Maggiano but declined the opportunity offered by the Court to testify themselves.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The motions before the Court require the Court to decide three issues. The first is whether an enforceable settlement was reached in this matter. If the Court determines that it was, defendants' motion to enforce settlement must be granted and plaintiffs' motion to restore this case to the active docket for trial must be denied. The second issue is, assuming an enforceable settlement was reached, what terms should be included in the release that plaintiffs declined to sign. Finally, the Court must address ...

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