Nathaniel et al v. City of New York et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: For the reasons set forth above, defendants motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. No. 28 ) is granted, and the case is dismissed. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to enter judgment and close this case. Ordered by Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf on 9/6/2017. (Taronji, Robert)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
BRANDON NATHANIEL; and HASSAN
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
16-CV-256 (RRM) (RER)
-againstCITY OF NEW YORK; SERGEANT JOHN COLYE;
POLICE OFFICER KEVIN DELEON; POLICE
OFFICER SALVATORE MELORE; and POLICE
OFFICER JOHN DOE #1–11,
ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF, United States District Judge.
Plaintiffs Brandon Nathaniel and Hassan Sheftall commenced this action against the City
of New York (the “City”) and several New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) police
officers (collectively, the “defendants”), alleging civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and related state law. (See generally Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 15).) 1 Before the Court is
defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
(“Rule”) 12(c), based on the affirmative defense of release of claims. (See Mot. Dismiss (Doc.
No. 28).) For the reasons that follow, defendants’ motion is granted, and the case is dismissed.
Prior to filing this lawsuit, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the City and multiple NYPD
police officers, alleging violations of their civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See
Nathaniel v. City of New York, No. 14-CV-3471 (BMC) (“Nathaniel I”). Plaintiffs later settled
the action, and as part of the settlement agreement, on May 14, 2015, each plaintiff signed a
Plaintiffs filed their original complaint on January 18, 2016, (Compl. (Doc. No 1)) and subsequently filed an
amended complaint with the Court’s leave. (See 6/15/17 Order; Am. Compl.)
general release that released the City and its employees from “any and all liability, claims, or
rights of action alleging a violation of [plaintiffs’] civil rights and any and all related state law
claims, from the beginning of the world to the date of this General Release, including claims for
costs, expenses, and attorney’s fees.” (See Nathaniel Release (Doc. No. 29-1) at ¶ 1; Sheftall
Release (Doc. No. 29-2) at ¶ 1, (collectively, the “Releases”).) 2 The language of the Releases
was also included in the Stipulation of Settlement. (See Stipulation of Settlement (Doc. No. 365) at 5.) 3
In the case at hand (“Nathaniel II”), plaintiffs allege that they were unlawfully stopped by
NYPD police officers on November 14, 2014, February 3, 2015, and February 26, 2015. (See
generally Am. Compl.) Plaintiffs contend that the General Release in Nathaniel I – which bars
claims “from the beginning of the world” to May 14, 2015 – does not bar the current claims.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to Rule 12(c), “[a]fter the pleadings are closed . . . a party may move for
judgment on the pleadings.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate
only where all material facts are undisputed and, “a judgment on the merits is possible merely by
considering the contents of the pleadings.” Mennella v. Office of Court Admin., 938 F. Supp.
128, 131 (E.D.N.Y. 1996), aff’d, 164 F.3d 618 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing Sellers v. M.C. Floor
Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988)). In all other respects, a motion brought
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is analyzed under the same standard applicable
to a motion under Rule 12(b)(6). See Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills, 259 F.3d
In resolving motions to dismiss, courts may consider documents attached to, integral to, or referred to in the
complaint, as well as documents filed in other courts and other public records. See Glob. Network Commc’ns, Inc. v.
City of N.Y., 458 F.3d 150, 157 (2d Cir. 2006). Accordingly, this Court has considered the General Releases and
Settlement Agreement as referenced in plaintiffs’ amended complaint and attached in the defendants’ brief and
plaintiffs’ brief, respectively.
For ease of reference, citations to Court documents utilize the Electronic Case Filing System (“ECF”) pagination.
123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001); Burnette v. Carothers, 192 F.3d 52, 56 (2d Cir. 1999). Thus, the
Court’s review is limited to the facts alleged or incorporated by reference in the complaint,
documents attached to the complaint, and matters of which the Court may take judicial notice.
See Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 153 (2d Cir. 2002); Diamond v. Local 807
Labor-Mgmt. Pension Fund, No. 12-CV-5559 (RRM) (VVP), 2014 WL 527898, at *1 n.1
(E.D.N.Y. Feb. 7, 2014).
The Court assumes the truth of the facts alleged and draws all reasonable inferences in
the nonmovant’s favor. See Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 71 (2d Cir. 2009). To withstand a
motion to dismiss, a complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150,
161 (2d Cir. 2010). Although the complaint need not contain “‘detailed factual allegations,’”
simple “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); Harris v.
Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009).
A settlement agreement and release are contracts, and are thus construed according to
general principles of contract law. Collins v. Harrison-Bode, 303 F.3d 429, 433 (2d Cir. 2002).
Under New York law, which the parties agree is controlling here, when a party disputes the
meaning of particular contract clauses, the initial question for the court is whether the contract is
unambiguous. Law Debenture Trust Co. v. Maverick Tube Corp., 595 F.3d 458, 465 (2d Cir.
2010). “Ambiguity is determined by looking within the four corners of the document, not to
outside sources . . . .” Kass v. Kass, 91 N.Y.2d 554, 566, 673 N.Y.S.2d 350, 356, 696 N.E.2d 174
(1998). Contract language is not ambiguous “where it has a definite and precise meaning,
unattended by danger of misconception in the purport of the contract itself, and concerning
which there is no reasonable basis for difference of opinion.” JA Apparel Corp. v. Abboud, 568
F.3d 390, 396 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal quotations and citation omitted). “Language whose
meaning is otherwise plain does not become ambiguous merely because the parties urge different
interpretations in the litigation.” Hunt Ltd v. Lifschultz Fast Freight, Inc., 889 F.2d 1274, 1277
(2d Cir. 1989). Rather, a contract is ambiguous if the terms of the contract “could suggest more
than one meaning when viewed objectively by a reasonably intelligent person who has examined
the context of the entire integrated agreement . . . .” Id. at 466 (quoting Int’l Multifoods Corp. v.
Commercial Union Ins. Co., 309 F.3d 76, 83 (2d Cir. 2002)). Whether a written contract is
ambiguous is a question of law for the Court. Id.
Here, plaintiffs agreed to release the City and “all past and present officials, employees,
representatives, and agents of the City . . . from any and all liability, claims, or rights of action
alleging a violation of [their] civil rights and any and all related state law claims, from the
beginning of the world to the date of [the Releases],” which was May 14, 2015. The language of
the Releases is unambiguous. 4 See Dinkins v. Decoteau, No. 15-CV-8914 (GHW), 2016 WL
3637169, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. June 29, 2016) (holding that identical wording was unambiguous);
Plaintiffs argue that the Stipulation of Settlement, which includes language from the Releases, contains a provision
that limits the scope of the Releases to the claims in Nathaniel I. The limiting provision states “[t]his stipulation
shall not be admissible in, nor is it related to, any other litigation or settlement negotiations, except to enforce the
terms of this agreement.” (Stipulation of Settlement at ¶ 4.) Plaintiffs are mistaken. This language is designed to
prevent the parties from using the settlement agreement to prove the merits of a subsequent litigation, not to prevent
the parties from enforcing the Releases, as defendants are seeking to do here. Indeed, notwithstanding the presence
of this language, courts have routinely considered similar settlement agreements and concluded that these
agreements bar subsequent actions. See Tromp v. City of New York, 465 F. App’x 50, 52 (2d Cir. 2012) (settlement
agreement, in conjunction with a general release, that contains language similar to that in paragraph 4); Roberts v.
Doe 1, No. 14-CV-9174 (AJP), 2015 WL 670180, at *4–5 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 17, 2015) (same); Springle v. City of New
York, 11-CV-8827 (NRB), 2013 WL 592656, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 14, 2013) (same); Chepilko v. City of New
York, 10-CV-2878 (ARR), 2012 WL 2792935, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. July 6, 2012) (same). Plaintiffs’ attempt to avoid the
consequences of the Releases, therefore, is rejected.
Cuadrado v. Zito, No. 13-CV-3321 (VB), 2014 WL 1508609, at *2–3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 21, 2014)
(same); Waters v. Douglas, No. 12-CV-1910 (PKC), 2012 WL 5834919, at *3–4 (S.D.N.Y. Nov.
14, 2012) (same). As police officers employed by the NYPD, defendants qualify as “past or
present employees” of the City. This lawsuit, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and related state
law, alleges violations of plaintiffs’ civil rights. Finally, plaintiffs released all claims “from the
beginning of the world” to the “date of this General Release,” which would include all claims
prior to May 15, 2015, the date the Releases were executed. Accordingly, the claims asserted in
the instant complaint – occurring on November 14, 2014, February 3, 2015, and February 26,
2015 – are barred by the Releases. See, e.g., A.A. Truck Renting Corp. v. Navistar, Inc., 81
A.D.3d 674, 675 (2011) (“[W]ords of general release are clearly operative not only as to all
controversies and causes of action between the releasor and releasees which had, by that time,
actually ripened into litigation, but to all such issues which might then have been adjudicated as
a result of pre-existent controversies.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
For the reasons set forth above, defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc.
No. 28) is granted, and the case is dismissed. 5 See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). The Clerk of Court is
respectfully directed to enter judgment and close this case.
Defendants also move for sanctions against plaintiffs and their attorneys, pursuant to Rule 11 and 28 U.S.C.
§ 1927. (See Mot. Sanctions (Doc. No. 31).) Under Rule 11, courts may impose sanctions on a person who signs a
pleading “without a belief, formed after reasonable inquiry, that the position espoused is factually supportable and is
warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing
law.” Caisse Nationale de Credit Agricole-CNCA, New York Branch v. Valcorp, Inc., 28 F.3d 259, 264 (2d Cir.
1994). Here, although plaintiffs’ claims are without merit, the Court does not find that plaintiffs’ arguments are
frivolous or made in bad faith. See Shady Records, Inc. v. Source Enterprises, Inc., 351 F. Supp. 2d 74, 79
(S.D.N.Y. 2004). Accordingly, defendants’ motion for sanctions is denied.
Roslynn R. Mauskopf
ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF
United States District Judge
Dated: Brooklyn, New York
September 6, 2017
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