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Taylor v. Ambrifi

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 17, 2019

EUGENE TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
FRANCISCO AMBRIFI, Individually and in his Official Capacity as a Police Officer for the Township of Delanco, THE TOWNSHIP OF DELANCO, NEW JERSEY, JOHN HARRIS, Individually and in his Official Capacity as a Police Officer for Edgewater Park Township, and EDGEWATER PARK TOWNSHIP, NEW JERSEY, Defendants.

          DANIELLA GORDON HYLAND LEVIN BARRY J. POLLACK ROBBINS, RUSSELL, ENGLERT, ORSECK, UNTEREINER & SAUBER LLP On behalf of Plaintiff

          JOHN CHARLES GILLESPIE MICHAEL E. SULLIVAN GEORGE M. MORRIS PARKER MCCAY, PA On behalf of Defendants Francisco Ambrifi and The Township of Delanco

          MICHELLE L. COREA BETSY G. RAMOS CAPEHART AND SCATCHARD, P.A. LAUREL CORPORATE CENTER On behalf of Defendants John Harris and Edgewater Township

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This case involves claims of excessive force, violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and state law torts committed by two police officers, as well as claims of municipal liability against two municipalities for deficient hiring and training of the officers. Defendants' deny the allegations.

         By way of background, at 3:45 a.m. on May 14, 2013, a resident on Delaware Avenue in Delanco Township, New Jersey called 911 to report a man on the street running around and screaming about Jesus. Defendant Francisco Ambrifi, a Delanco Township police officer, responded to the call and encountered Plaintiff, Eugene Taylor, a paranoid schizophrenic who was unarmed. Ambrifi's interaction with Plaintiff resulted in Ambrifi spraying Plaintiff twice with pepper spray, repeatedly hitting Plaintiff with his flashlight, and then shooting Plaintiff three times, with one of the bullets also striking Ambrifi. The level of use of force and the need for it were sharply disputed between the parties. Eventually other officers responded to the scene, including Defendant John Harris, a police officer with Edgewater Township, who struck Plaintiff at some point during the incident. The encounter was witnessed by the 911 caller, her husband, and their 17-year old daughter.

         After the discovery process was complete, Defendants moved for summary judgment. On July 11, 2018, this Court denied Defendants' motions for summary judgment on Plaintiff's constitutional and ADA claims.[1] Trial was set for November 5, 2018.

         The Court held pre-trial conferences on October 11, 2018 and October 16, 2018, and entered orders resolving numerous motions in limine. On Thursday, October 25, 2018, the parties engaged in private mediation. On Friday, October 26, 2018, it was reported to the Court that the matter had settled. The Court cancelled the trial scheduled for Monday, November 5, 2018, and administratively terminated the action pending the scheduling of a settlement approval hearing[2] and the filing of the parties' dismissal papers.

         On November 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement, and on December 3, 2018, Defendants Ambrifi and the Township of Delanco filed a cross-motion to enforce the settlement agreement. (Docket No. 280, 282.) On December 20, 2018, the Court entered an order declining to consider the motions, and instead directed the parties to return to the same mediator in efforts to resolve the dispute. The parties were also instructed to report to the Court the results of the mediation.[3]

         On February 1, 2019, Plaintiff informed the Court that mediation was not successful, and requested that the Court resolve the parties' pending motions to enforce the settlement. For the reasons expressed below, the Court will grant the parties' motions and will now set forth the four corners of the parties' settlement agreement.

         1. Standard for Motion to Enforce a Settlement

         The law governing the enforcement of a settlement agreement holds that a settlement agreement between parties to a lawsuit is a contract like any other contract. Peskin v. Peskin, 638 A.2d 849, 857 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. 1994) (citing Nolan v. Lee Ho, 577 A.2d 143, 146 (N.J. 1990)). A contract is formed where there is offer and acceptance and terms sufficiently definite that the performance to be rendered by each party can be ascertained with reasonable certainty. U.S. v. Lightman, 988 F.Supp. 448, 458 (D.N.J. 1997) (citing Weichert Co. Realtors v. Ryan, 128 N.J. 427, 435, 608 A.2d 280 (1992)). That contract is enforceable if the parties agree on essential terms and manifest an intention to be bound by those terms. Id. Where the parties do not agree on one or more essential terms, however, courts generally hold that the agreement is unenforceable. Id.

         A settlement agreement need not be reduced to writing to be binding. Vandergrift v. Pennsauken School District, 2017 WL 6566139, at *4 (D.N.J. 2017). “So long as the basic essentials are sufficiently definite, any gap left by the parties should not frustrate their intent to be bound.” Id. (citing Hagrish v. Olson, 254 N.J.Super. 133, 138, 603 A.2d 108 (App. Div. 1992) (citation and quotation omitted)).

         The party seeking to enforce the alleged settlement agreement has the burden of proving the existence of the agreement under contract law. Lightman, 988 F.Supp. at 458 (citations omitted). Courts treat a motion to enforce settlement under the same standard as a motion for summary judgment because the central issue is whether there is any disputed issue of material fact as to the validity of the settlement agreement. Washington v. Klem, 388 Fed.Appx. 84, 85 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Tiernan v. Devoe, 923 F.2d 1024, 1031 (3d Cir. 1991)).

         A motion for summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those facts “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The same standards apply when addressing cross-motions for summary judgment. See Lawrence v. City of Phila., 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008). If upon review of ...


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