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Waselik v. Township of Sparta

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 30, 2019

SCOTT M. WASELIK, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF SPARTA, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JAMES B. CLARK, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a motion by Defendants Township of Sparta (the “Township”), Chief Ernest I. Reigstad, Daniel Elig, Kurt Morris, Sergeant Keith Hannam, Sergeant Terrence Mulligan, Sergeant Joseph Pensado and Sergeant John Paul Beebe (collectively “Defendants”) seeking to enforce a settlement [Dkt. No. 49], which is opposed by Plaintiff Scott M. Waselik (“Plaintiff”) [Dkt. No. 52] and a cross-motion by Plaintiff also seeking to enforce a settlement [Dkt. No. 50], which is opposed by Defendants [Dkt. No. 51]. For the reasons set forth below, it is respectfully recommended that Defendants' motion to enforce a settlement [Dkt. No. 49] be DENIED and that Plaintiff's cross-motion to enforce a settlement [Dkt. No. 50] be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's claims in this matter arise out of an incident on October 8, 2013 during which Plaintiff was stabbed and beaten in his residence by an individual identified as Kevin Rios. Following the attack, Plaintiff was driven by a friend to the Sparta Police Department where he reported the incident as a domestic violence matter. Plaintiff was then transported to Morris County Memorial Hospital where he was admitted and treated for his injuries. After receiving Plaintiff's report of the incident, Sparta Police Officers Daniel Elig and Kurt Morris went to Plaintiff's residence, where they located Rios in the back yard and handcuffed and arrested him. Although Plaintiff was in the hospital and Rios, the sole suspect, was in custody, Elig and Morris entered Plaintiff's residence without a warrant and observed marijuana. On October 9, 2013, Sparta police officers obtained a search warrant and re-entered Plaintiff's residence where they seized marijuana and associated paraphernalia.

         On October 24, 2013, Plaintiff turned himself in to the Sparta police and was charged by summons and complaint with possession of a controlled dangerous substance and drug paraphernalia. According to Plaintiff, at the time he was charged, the police knew or had reason to know that Plaintiff was entitled to possess marijuana for medical reasons because his medical marijuana card was in his wallet which had remained at the police station from the time he reported the incident until he was released from the hospital on October 13, 2013. On November 7, 2014, the Hon. Thomas J. Critchley, J.S.C., entered an order granting Plaintiff's motion to suppress the evidence seized from his residence. On January 15, 2015, the charges against Plaintiff were dismissed.

         Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint in this matter on August 12, 2016 asserting various claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act. See Dkt. No. 1. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which the Court subsequently granted in part and denied in part. See Dkt. No. 17. Plaintiff then, in response to the Court's Opinion and Order, filed an Amended Complaint, which asserts three causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Dkt. No. 18.

         The present motion arises out of a disagreement between Plaintiff and Defendants regarding the terms of a settlement reached by the parties as a result of a settlement conference held by the Court on October 9, 2018. At the conclusion of the settlement conference, the parties requested that the settlement terms be memorialized by the Court on the record. The Court granted the parties' request and placed the terms of the settlement and the parties' statements of assent to such terms on the record. See Dkt. No. 40. The parties agreed, and continue to agree, that the settlement they reached would include Plaintiff's dismissal of all claims in this matter in exchange for the payment of $37, 500, with $25, 000 to be paid upon full execution of a settlement agreement and the remaining $12, 500 to be paid six months later in the absence of any breach of the settlement agreement in the interim. Id. at p. 3-4. The Court noted that the settlement would be contingent upon final approval by the Township's town council.

         The parties' present dispute relates to the confidentiality of the settlement. Specifically, the parties disagree as to whether Plaintiff's counsel, Tracey C. Hinson, Esq. of Hinson Snipes LLP (“Hinson Snipes”) was to be bound by the confidentiality provision. The confidentiality of the settlement was briefly addressed by the parties during the October 9, 2018 proceeding. After outlining the amount and timing of the settlement payments, the attorney for the Township, Steven K. Parness, Esq. of Methfessel & Werbel stated:

The Town[ship], though, wants to make very clear that a key provision of this agreement is the confidentiality provision. The Township wants to keep this settlement agreement confidential. And we're hoping that all parties abide by that.

Dkt. No. 40 at 6:15-19. Ms. Hinson did not immediately react or respond to Mr. Parness' statement. However, at the conclusion of the proceeding, the following exchange took place between Ms. Hinson and the Court:

Ms. Hinson: Your Honor, may I clarify something?
The Court: Sure.
Ms. Hinson: So generally with confidentiality, not that I plan on speaking about this case every day, but just to be clear, that the confidentiality - ...

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