LS et al v. LENAPE HIGH SCHOOL et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 5/4/2017. (dmr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
LS, Parent of minor child, SS
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 16-1468 (JBS/KMW)
LENAPE HIGH SCHOOL, LHS, LENAPE
REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT,
LRHSD, MERCHANTVILLE POLICE
SIMANDLE, Chief Judge:
Before the Court is Defendants Lenape High School and
Lenape Regional High School District’s (hereinafter collectively
“Lenape”) motion to enforce settlement. [Docket Item 77.]
Court has also considered Plaintiff LS’s opposition letter filed
pro se [Docket Item 82], and Plaintiff LS’s “preliminary
objections” letter [Docket Item 87], Lenape’s response thereto
[Docket Item 88], Plaintiff LS’s pro se “notice and request for
ruling” [Docket Item 89], and Lenape’s response thereto [Docket
Although LS is represented by court-appointed pro
bono counsel, the submissions of LS, though not specifically
authorized by the rules, have been considered.
For the reasons
that follow, the Court will grant Defendants’ motion.
This matter arises from pro se Plaintiff LS’s claims
against Lenape alleging, inter alia, violations of the McKinneyVento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 and violations of Section
504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.1 LS purported to represent
her minor daughter SS in the matter, but since a non-attorney
parent or guardian cannot represent their minor in this Court
without assistance of counsel, Judge Williams appointed Kerri E.
Chewning, Esq. to represent the interests of Plaintiff SS and
Ellis I. Medoway, Esq. to represent the interests of Plaintiff
Attorneys Chewning and Medoway represented Plaintiffs SS
and LS throughout the negotiation and consummation of the
Subsequently, the parties engaged in settlement
discussions, and the parties settled the matter during a hearing
before Magistrate Judge Williams on December 14, 2016 [Docket
The parties placed their oral agreement upon the
record before Judge Williams on December 14, 2016.
December 16, 2016, Plaintiff LS personally filed a “Rescision
[sic] of Acceptance of Settlement Agreement Between Plaintiffs
and LRHSD” because “[i]n the State of New Jersey there is a 72
hour period in which any agreement can be cancelled.” [Docket
The complaint in this matter was filed pro se by Plaintiffs LS
and her minor daughter SS. Plaintiffs also named the
Merchantville Police Department as a Defendant, which is not a
party to the alleged settlement.
Plaintiff further explains that she would like to
“cancel this agreement because this agreement is not fair nor
does it encompass a relief to the crime of LHS and LRHSD placing
the Defendants [sic] into involuntary servitude.” [Docket Item
The construction and enforcement of settlement
agreements is governed by state law. Excelsior Ins. Co. v.
Pennsbury Pain Ctr., 975 F. Supp. 342, 348-49 (D.N.J. 1996).
Under New Jersey law, a “settlement between parties to a lawsuit
is a contract like any other contract.” Peskin v. Peskin, 638
A.2d 849, 856 (N.J. App. Div. 1994). “Therefore parties create
an enforceable contract when they agree on its essential terms
and manifest an intent that the terms bind them.” Baer v. Chase,
392 F.3d 609, 619 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing West Caldwell v.
Caldwell, 138 A.2d 402, 410 (N.J. 1958)).
As a result, “a
court, absent demonstration of fraud or other compelling
Plaintiff also objects to Defendants’ motion to enforce
settlement under Fed. R. Civ. P. 5 and 6 because “Defendant
failed to serve of a copy of their motion upon Plaintiffs.”
[Docket Item 87.] The Court finds no issue with the service of
Defendants’ motion, as Plaintiff LS herself attaches a copy of
the receipt of the motion on the date of its filing, February
14, 2017. [Ex. O1 to Pl.’s Opp’n.] Moreover, L. Civ. R. 5.2
states that: “Papers served and filed by electronic means in
accordance with procedures promulgated by the Court are, for
purposes of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 5, served and filed
in compliance with the local civil and criminal rules of the
District of New Jersey.” As Lenape correctly notes, its motion
to enforce settlement “was served upon Plaintiff L.S. via ECF in
accordance with Local Civ. Rule 5.2.” [Docket Item 88 at 2.]
circumstances, should honor and enforce as it does other
contracts.” Pascarella v. Bruck, 190 N.J. Super. 118, 124-125
(App. Div. 1983). Additionally, “an oral agreement as to the
essential terms of a settlement is valid even though the parties
later intend to reduce their agreement to a formal writing.” See
id. at 124; see also Shernoff v. Hewlett-Packard Co., No. 044390, 2006 WL 3511188, at *3 (D.N.J. July 17, 2006). Given New
Jersey’s “strong public policy in favor of settlement,” courts
should “strain” to uphold settlements “wherever possible”.
Bistricer v. Bistricer, 231 N.J. Super. 143, 147 (App. Div.
Following negotiations, Mr. Madden, on behalf of
Lenape, placed the terms of the agreement on the record,
consisting of the District waiving certain claims it may have
against LS and agreeing to pay LS and SS a specific total sum,
such sum to be allocated between LS and SS, subject to court
approval at a forthcoming friendly settlement hearing, with the
Plaintiffs to give a complete and final release of all claims
against the Lenape Defendants, their representatives, officers,
employees, and insurers. See Tr. 12/14/163 at 4:17 – 7:13. The
There is a typographical error on the cover page of the hearing
transcript which mistakenly says “December 24, 2016” for the
hearing date. The correct date is “December 14, 2016,” as
reflected on the docket sheet [Docket Item 59], and in Plaintiff
LS’s notice of rescission of acceptance filed on December 16,
2016 [Docket Item 61], and in Defendants’ motion to enforce
parties including LS further agreed that they would address the
relative amounts of the split of the total settlement sum
between parent and child, subject to court approval. Id. at
Whatever that split may be, it will not affect the
total settlement obligation of Lenape or Plaintiffs and is thus
not material to the present dispute.
Here, there is no question that Plaintiff LS knowingly
and voluntarily entered into the settlement agreement, as
evidenced by the December 14, 2016 hearing transcript. First,
counsel asked LS about her understanding of the settlement.
Mr. Medoway: And before we met, we’re in open Court
now, before sealed, we’re in open Court now and we’re
just discussing what the terms of this settlement are
but you had a chance to meet and confer with Ms.
Chewning and myself about what the terms and
conditions were for Lenape’s offer, am I correct?
Mr. Medoway: Did you understand the explanation we
provided you about those terms and conditions?
settlement [Docket Item 77] itself. Accordingly, the Court will
refer to the hearing transcript as “Tr. 12/14/16.” That
transcript [Docket Item 77-2] remains under seal pending
resolution of Defendants’ motion to seal document [Docket Item
84], which will be separately addressed. In the meantime, the
Court has made reference to certain parts of that Transcript
herein which it determines are not confidential in terms of
protecting the interests of the minor plaintiff SS and which are
necessary for an understanding of the present motion to enforce.
(Tr. 12/14/16 at 8:16-25.)
Then, counsel carefully asked LS
whether she understood that this settlement is final and that
she could not change her mind if she accepted it:
Ms. Chewing: By accepting the terms here today in open
Court on the record, the settlement essentially is
effective today so there’s no changing your mind
tomorrow or the next day. Once – there will be
paperwork that will formalize it but the Court will
treat this as a settlement and will enforce the terms
of the settlement as we discussed them today; you
[LS]: Yes, I understand.
The Court: So you – I’m sorry.
you agree to
out and your
well as your
Just for the last, this is final. Once
this today, Lenape at some point will be
claims against Lenape will be released as
The Court: All right . . . do you enter into this
agreement freely, knowingly, and voluntarily?
[LS]: Yes, Your Honor.
The Court: You understand that this is a case that
could have been decided by a jury if it got that far
and jury could have gotten more, less or nothing at
all; Do you understand that?
[LS]: Yes, Your Honor.
The Court: By virtue of this agreement, you’re waiving
any right to go forward in this case; you understand
[LS]: Yes, Your Honor, and that’s Lenape Regional High
(Tr. 12/14/2016 at 11:20 to 12:21.)
Finally, counsel asked
Plaintiff once more whether she understand what she was agreeing
Mr. Madden: Judge, I want to make sure that the
plaintiff understands that you are dismissing any and
all claims that you have against the Lenape Regional
High School District and everybody associated with the
[LS]: Yes, I understand and I can’t come back at a
later point and say hey, I want to address this issue.
I’m releasing all issues right now.
(Id. at 13:6-12.)
Plaintiff LS, in summary, was questioned about each
term and condition of the parties’ settlement agreement. (Id. at
7:22 – 11:17.)
She continually indicated her understanding and
She was at all times represented by counsel
and indicated that she understood and accepted the agreement.
In the present enforcement motion, the opposition of LS never
says that she did not understand the provisions of this
agreement, nor does LS claim that any material details were
withheld from her.
Given the above colloquy, the Court finds no reason to
rescind the settlement agreement between Plaintiff and Lenape.
Plaintiff states no compelling circumstance, like fraud or
misrepresentation, or even innocent miscomprehension, justifying
The Court finds Plaintiff’s averment invoking
a “72-hour period in which any agreement can be cancelled” to be
without merit, as it has found no caselaw or other authority
underpinning that proposition.4
Were that the law, no party
could ever rely on a clear agreement, reached in court and
placed upon the record knowingly and voluntarily until after
expiration of some rescission period.
The Court therefore
denies Plaintiff’s request to rescind the December 14, 2016
settlement agreement and finds that the terms of the settlement
agreement shall be recognized.
The Court thus determines that
the parties agreed to the December 14 settlement.
determination does not address whether that settlement agreement
should be approved as in the best interests of the minor
Plaintiff may be referring to New Jersey’s Door-to-Door Retail
Installment Sales Act (DDRISA), N.J.S.A. 17:16C61.1 to -61.9.
That Act enables consumers to reconsider entering into retail
installment sales contracts for goods “within a reasonable
period of time and to rescind the sale if he acts before 5 p.m.
of the third business day following the day on which the
contract is executed.” N.J.S.A. 17:16C-61.3. The Act was
intended to curb the “unsolicited and often unethical persuasion
of certain door-to-door sellers.” Id. Given that the Lenape
Defendants are not door-to-door sellers, the DDRISA would not
apply. However, in United Consumer Financial Services Co. v.
Carbo, 410 N.J. Super 280, 300 (App. Div. 2009), the court held
that the duration of DDRISA’s “cooling-off period” was preempted
by the Federal Trade Commission’s “Cooling-Off Rule,” which
gives consumers a 3-day right to cancel a sale made at a home,
workplace, or dormitory, or at a seller’s temporary location,
like a hotel or motel room, convention center, fairground, or
restaurant. 16 C.F.R. § 429.1. But this Rule only applies to a
“seller,” which is defined as “[a]ny person, partnership,
corporation, or association engaged in the door-to-door sale of
consumer goods or services.” 16 C.F.R. § 429.0. The Cooling-Off
Rule therefore does not apply to the Lenape Defendants, as
parties to a settlement agreement in federal litigation.
plaintiff SS, which remains to be addressed at the “friendly
settlement hearing” contemplated by the parties’ December 14th
agreement, as discussed above.
Lastly, the Court addresses Plaintiff LS’s pro se
motion for partial summary judgment against the Lenape
Defendants [Docket Item 65.]
The Court ordered Plaintiff’s
motion for partial summary judgment to be held in abeyance
pending adjudication of Lenape’s motion to enforce settlement
[Docket Item 69.]
Plaintiff LS recently, in her “Notice and
Request for Ruling” filed pro se on April 25, 2017 [Docket Item
89], requested that the Court rule on her partial summary
and her “preliminary objection” [Docket Item 87],
which concerned alleged lack of service of the Defendants’
motion to enforce settlement upon her.
The Court has found
proper service of Defendants’ motion (see note 2, above), and
has now upheld the settlement agreement of December 14, 2017,
ending the parties’ dispute about Plaintiff’s claims against the
Accordingly, the Court will dismiss
Plaintiff’s pro se motion for partial summary judgment as moot,
the matters at issue having been resolved by settlement.
The accompanying Order shall be entered.
May 4, 2017
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
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