Cynthia Lee v. Fairfax County School Board


UNPUBLISHED PER CURIAM OPINION filed. Motion disposition in opinion--denying as moot Motion to reconsider [999631406-2]. Originating case number: 1:14-cv-01116-AJT-TCB. Copies to all parties and the district court/agency. [999642174] [15-1050]

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Appeal: 15-1050 Doc: 46 Filed: 08/18/2015 Pg: 1 of 5 UNPUBLISHED UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT No. 15-1050 CYNTHIA LEE, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. FAIRFAX COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD; Dr. JACK DALE, former Superintendent; Dr. PHYLLIS PAJARDO, Assistant Superintendent; JAMEY CHIANETTA, Principal, Defendants - Appellees. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Anthony J. Trenga, District Judge. (1:14-cv-01116-AJT-TCB) Submitted: August 10, 2015 Before KING and Circuit Judge. THACKER, Decided: Circuit Judges, and August 18, 2015 DAVIS, Senior Affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion. Christopher E. Brown, THE BROWN LAW FIRM, PLLC, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant. Mary McGowan, Robert M. Falconi, BLANKINGSHP & KEITH, P.C., Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellee. Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit. Appeal: 15-1050 Doc: 46 Filed: 08/18/2015 Pg: 2 of 5 PER CURIAM: Cynthia Lee challenges the district court’s order granting the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Board’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing Lee’s complaint alleging that the FCPS Board and FCPS employees (collectively, “Appellees”) violated (2012), Lee’s and Fourteenth civil her under procedural Amendment, termination rights under and due 42 U.S.C. process §§ rights engaged in defamation state Virginia 1981, law. Lee under and argues 1983 the wrongful that her claims are not barred by her prior settlement agreement with FCPS because she entered the agreement is unconscionable. agreement under duress and the We affirm. We review the grant or denial of summary judgment de novo. Cloaninger ex rel. Estate of Cloaninger v. McDevitt, 555 F.3d 324, 330 (4th Cir. 2009). are viewed party.” (4th Cir. “in the light All facts and reasonable inferences most favorable to the non-moving Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 2012). Summary judgment is only appropriate when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Civ. P. 56(a). Fed. R. “Conclusory or speculative allegations do not suffice, nor does a mere scintilla of evidence in support of [the nonmoving party’s] case.” Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power 2 Appeal: 15-1050 Doc: 46 Filed: 08/18/2015 Pg: 3 of 5 Co., 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). We first review Lee’s claim that her settlement agreement should be set aside because she entered it under duress. Under Virginia law, “[d]uress is not readily accepted as an excuse, and must be proven Pelfrey v. Pelfrey, (internal quotation defendant commits by 487 S.E.2d marks a clear and 281, 284 omitted). wrongful act convincing (Va. “Duress evidence.” Ct. App. exists sufficient 1997) a prevent to when a plaintiff from exercising his free will, thereby coercing the plaintiff’s S.E.2d consent.” 450, particularly 452 Goode (Va. hesitant v. Burke 1993). to Virginia accept pressure as a form of duress. Town the Plaza, courts exertion Inc., have of 436 been economic See id. at 452-53 (“Because the application of economic pressure by threatening to enforce a legal right is not a wrongful act, it cannot constitute duress.”); Seward v. Am. Hardware Co., 171 S.E. 650, 662 (Va. 1933) (“A contract reluctantly entered into by one badly in need of money without force or intimidation and with full knowledge of the fact is not a contract executed under duress.”). We duress. have reviewed the record and found no evidence of Lee fails to show that FCPS engaged in any wrongful conduct in the negotiation of the agreement, and her financial 3 Appeal: 15-1050 Doc: 46 hardship, Filed: 08/18/2015 standing alone, Pg: 4 of 5 is insufficient to invalidate a contract due to duress under Virginia law. We next consider whether the settlement agreement should be invalidated as unconscionable. Traditionally, for a contract to be unconscionable, it must have been “such as no man in his senses and not under delusion would make on the one hand, and as no honest and fair man would accept on the other.” Chaplain, 682 S.E.2d 108, 113 quotation marks omitted). (Va. Ct. App. Chaplain v. 2009) (internal In other words, “‘[t]he inequality must be so gross as to shock the conscience.’” Id. (quoting Smyth Bros. v. Beresford, 104 S.E. 371, 382 (Va. 1920)). Unconscionability element. the has Id. at 114. value faith exchanged.” in concealments, “the a substantive and procedural The former requires a “gross disparity in Id. quotation marks omitted). bad both at 113 (internal alterations and The latter necessitates inequity and accompanying incidents misrepresentations, undue . . . advantage, , such as oppressions on the part of the one who obtains the benefit, or ignorance, weakness of necessities, mind, and sickness, the like.” old age, Id. at incapacity, 114 (internal pecuniary quotation marks omitted). We conclude settlement that agreement neither before element this court. is present In in the exchange for releasing her claims against Appellees, Lee avoided termination 4 Appeal: 15-1050 Doc: 46 Filed: 08/18/2015 Pg: 5 of 5 for incompetence (for which she could have lost her teacher’s license), retained a position at FCPS, wiped her record clean, received a neutral reference from FCPS, and could resign with only five-days notice if she were to obtain new employment. In negotiating these benefits, Lee was represented by counsel. As a result, the district court properly refused to invalidate the settlement agreement due to unconscionability. Because Lee does not contend that any of her claims were beyond the scope of her settlement district court’s judgment. reconsider dispense our with contentions are order oral we affirm the We also deny as moot her motion to denying argument adequately agreement, her motion because presented in to the the expedite. facts We and legal materials before this court and argument would not aid the decisional process. AFFIRMED 5

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