INVENTORY RECOVERY CORPORATION v. GABRIEL et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge William J. Martini on 1/23/17. (gh, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civ. No. 2:11-cv-01604 (WJM)
ASHLEY A. GABRIEL, et al.,
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.:
Plaintiff Inventory Recovery Corporation (“IRC”) brings this action against
Richard Gabriel (“R. Gabriel”) and Ashley Gabriel (“A. Gabriel”) (“Defendants”),
alleging that Defendants engaged in fraudulent inducement with respect to, and breached
an agreement for, the sale of 324 Internet domain names and related assets (“the
Business”). In April 2016, the Court granted in part and denied in part the parties’ crossmotions for summary judgment.
This matter comes before the Court upon three motions: (1) a motion by Plaintiff
to reopen the action; (2) a cross-motion by Defendants to enforce the parties’ settlement
agreement; and (3) Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration of a portion of this Court’s
April 2016 Order granting in part and denying in part the parties’ cross motions for
summary judgment. There was no oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b). For the reasons
set forth below, Plaintiff’s motion to reopen the case is GRANTED; Defendants’ cross
motion to enforce the settlement agreement is DENIED; and Plaintiff’s motion for
reconsideration is GRANTED.
The Court writes for the benefit of the parties and assumes familiarity with the
underlying facts, as described more thoroughly in the Court’s April 2016 Opinion. See
Inventory Recovery Corp. v. Gabriel, No. 2:11-CV-01604, 2016 WL 1365995 (D.N.J.
Apr. 6, 2016). What follows is a brief recitation of the facts relevant to the current
In August 2014, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, asserting three causes of
action arising from Defendants’ sale of the Business to Plaintiff: (1) fraudulent
inducement; (2) breach of contract; and (3) breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing.
ECF No. 52 at ¶¶ 60-74.
On April 6, 2016, this Court granted in part and denied in part the parties’ crossmotions for summary judgment. ECF No. 93. As is relevant here, the Court denied
Plaintiff partial summary judgment, and granted Defendants summary judgment, on that
portion of Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim based on the “material adverse change”
clause of the parties’ contract. Id. In April 2016, Plaintiff moved for reconsideration of
that portion of this Court’s Opinion and Order. ECF No. 98.
On July 27, 2016, the parties met with Magistrate Judge Falk and participated in a
settlement conference. At that conference, the parties agreed to a potential settlement
structure. That day, this Court, after being notified that the matter had settled, dismissed
the action without prejudice to the right, upon good cause shown, to reopen the matter if
the settlement was not consummated. ECF No. 107.
On July 28, 2016, Plaintiff’s counsel emailed defense counsel to “confirm the
proposed settlement” and noting that the “general structure” of a settlement was:
(1) payment of a settlement amount over time; (2) a first priority lien on certain real
property in New York (the “Real Property”) “to secure the payment;” (3) entry of a
consent judgment against R. Gabriel; and (4) a release of both A. and R. Gabriel. ECF
No. 116-1 (Decl.), Ex. A (Email) at 2.
Plaintiff’s counsel stated that: “[t]his settlement is contingent on [Plaintiff]
satisfying itself that the Real Property has sufficient value to secure the settlement
amount” and that, “if at any time [Plaintiff] determines, in its sole discretion that the Real
Property is insufficient to secure the settlement, that [Defendants] are withholding
documents IRC deems necessary to complete its due diligence or if [Plaintiff] otherwise
decides not to go forward with this settlement, it is agreed and understood that the parties
will request reinstatement of the case . . . .” Id. at 3.
On July 29, 2016, Plaintiff’s counsel sent an email stating that he had found
information suggesting the presence of an unground storage tank which had a hazardous
spill in 1993 (hereinafter, “the environmental issue”), and requested documentation
confirming remediation of that spill. Ex. B (Email). Plaintiff’s counsel also indicated
that he had more general concerns that the property’s value was sufficient to secure the
proposed settlement amount. Id.
An August 16, 2016 appraisal of the property stated that a “determination of the
effect on market value of any hazardous materials that may be present at the subject
property is beyond the scope of this appraisal,” and that the appraisers had received no
information concerning the need for remediation at the site or its cost. Ex. D (Appraisal).
According to Defendants, the parties agreed that an accelerated payment of the
settlement amount would solve the environmental issue. ECF No. 116-1 (Cert.) at 4.
However, in September 2016, Plaintiff’s counsel circulated a draft mortgage for the real
That mortgage included a provision indemnifying Plaintiff for the
environmental issue, which Defendants refused to sign, causing the settlement to fall
apart. Id. at 6-7.
In November 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion to reopen the case, stating that the
parties had reached an impasse in consummating settlement. ECF No. 114. Defendants
have filed a cross motion to reinstate the case to enforce the settlement agreement. ECF
No. 116. These motions are presently pending. In December, the Court had a
confidential status conference with the parties to better glean each party’s position.
A. Plaintiff’s Motion to Reopen and Defendants’ Cross Motion to Enforce
Under New Jersey Local Civil Rule 41.1(b), when the Court receives notice that a
case has settled, the Court shall enter an order dismissing the action, without costs, and
without prejudice to the right to reopen the action within 60 days upon good cause shown
if the settlement is not consummated. See N.J. L. Civ. R. 41.1(b); see also Sander Sales
Enterprises, Ltd. v. Saks, Inc., 245 F. App’x 108, 110 (3d Cir. 2007).
Plaintiff has unquestionably shown good cause for reopening the action. At the
July 27, 2016 settlement conference with Judge Falk, the parties agreed to the general
terms of a proposed settlement. On July 28, 2016, Plaintiff’s counsel underscored that
“[t]his settlement is contingent on [Plaintiff] satisfying itself that the Real Property has
sufficient value to secure the settlement amount.” The record demonstrates that, despite
its best efforts, Plaintiff has been unable to satisfy itself that the property has sufficient
value to secure the settlement amount. Specifically, on July 29, 2016, Plaintiff
discovered that the property had an undisclosed environmental issue. Since then,
Defendants have not provided any documentation concerning the environmental issue,
and have refused to sign an indemnification clause in the draft mortgage. Under these
circumstances, Plaintiff is entitled to reopen the matter and proceed to trial.
In opposition, Defendants contend that the settlement agreement should be
enforced, because the parties have entered into a binding agreement, and that their “sole
disagreement concerns the inclusion of the Environmental Indemnification Provision in
the Mortgage.” Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s counsel’s July 28 email setting forth the
general terms of the settlement agreement is sufficient to confirm that the parties entered
into a binding agreement. Defendants further contend that, once Plaintiff learned about
the environmental issue, both parties agreed that acceleration of payment would solve
any potential problems with the property’s value.1
The Court finds that a settlement agreement between the parties cannot be
enforced. First, despite Defendants’ representation that the settlement agreement is
“complete,” the fact that the date of the first accelerated payment – September 30, 2016 –
has long passed with no payment by Defendants, belies that representation. Moreover,
Defendants concede in their brief that the parties “remain in disagreement” over the issue
of indemnification of any future environmental liabilities, further confirming that a final
agreement was never reached. Finally, the Court finds that, in any event, enforcement of
a settlement agreement which requires one party to accept a property with wholly
unknown environmental liabilities as security for future payment would be
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s motion to reopen the case is GRANTED; Defendants’
cross-motion to enforce the settlement is DENIED.
B. Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration
Because the case will be reopened, any motions that were pending at the time of
settlement are reinstated. Therefore, presently pending before this Court is Plaintiff’s
motion for reconsideration of this Court’s April 2016 Opinion disposing of the parties’
motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff’s motion for
reconsideration will be GRANTED.
Reconsideration is appropriate where, inter alia, it is necessary to correct a clear
error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice. Max’s Seafood Café by Lou–Ann,
Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing North River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA
Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995)). Manifest injustice pertains to
situations where a court overlooks some dispositive factual or legal matter that was
presented to it. See In re Rose, No. 06–1818, 2007 WL 2533894, at *3 (D.N.J. Aug. 30,
Plaintiff seeks reconsideration of the portion of this Court’s decision in which it
granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants as to Plaintiff’s claim that the material
adverse change clause in the parties’ contract was breached. The Court found that there
The Court comments that while Defendants insist that the appraisal report “specifically took into account the
Environmental Issue,” see Def. Br. at 6, the record clearly demonstrates that the opposite is true: the report explicitly
stated that “a determination of the effect on market value of any hazardous materials that may be present at the
subject property is beyond the scope of this appraisal” and that the appraisers received no information concerning
the need for remediation at the site or its cost, see Appraisal. Defendants are cautioned that any future distortions of
the record will not be taken lightly by this Court.
was no breach because, to the extent that there was a material adverse change, Plaintiff
had failed to demonstrate that Defendants had knowledge of that change. In so finding,
the Court overlooked evidence in the record that creates a triable issue of fact as to
whether the Defendants breached that clause.
The material adverse change at issue is a change in Google’s ad policy, which
barred Defendants’ business from using pay-per-click advertisements. In its April 2016
Opinion, the Court determined that Plaintiff had not provided any evidence of Todd
Rodenborn’s agency relationship with R. Gabriel such that Rodenborn’s knowledge of
Google’s ad policy change should be imputed to Defendants, and therefore, granted
summary judgment in favor of Defendants as to this claim. IRC v. Gabriel, 2016 WL
1365995, at *5. Plaintiff now points to two material facts in the record that the Court
overlooked that, if credited by a jury, could demonstrate an agency relationship. First, in
their Rule 36 admissions, Defendants admitted that Rodenborn “acted on behalf of
Defendants when he made decisions with regard to the Business’s PPC advertising
campaigns during 2009.” ECF No. 80-2 at Ex. 5, ¶ 53 (emphasis added). Second,
Rodenborn confirmed at his deposition that the nature of his business is “being the agent”
for “the purchaser, for people like Richard [Gabriel].” ECF No. 80-2 at Ex. 27 (Dep.).
Taken together, these statements could lead a reasonable juror to conclude that
Rodenborn was, indeed, Defendants’ agent and therefore, that his knowledge of the
material adverse change in Google’s ad policy could be imputed to Defendants. Because
a question of material fact remains as to whether Rodenborn’s knowledge of the material
adverse change should be imputed to Defendants, reconsideration is GRANTED, and
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to the material adverse contract clause is
For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff’s motion to reopen the case is GRANTED;
Defendants’ cross motion to reinstate and enforce the settlement agreement is DENIED;
and Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration is GRANTED. The parties are directed to
contact Judge Falk’s chambers to arrange for a pretrial conference. An appropriate order
s/ William J. Martini
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
Date: January 23, 2017
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