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Johnson v. Penn Camera Exchange

October 17, 2008

JOEL JOHNSON, JR. PLAINTIFF,
v.
PENN CAMERA EXCHANGE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The above-captioned employment discrimination case was originally filed by Plaintiff Joel Johnson, Jr., through counsel, against his former employer, Defendant Penn Camera Exchange ("Penn Camera"). Following Penn Camera's Answer to Mr. Johnson's Complaint, the parties engaged in extensive settlement discussions that ultimately culminated in a settlement agreement signed by both parties and their counsel in the presence of Magistrate Judge Alan Kay. The case was thereafter dismissed with prejudice by this Court on May 20, 2008. Mr. Johnson, now proceeding pro se, seeks to rescind the parties' agreement and reinstate his case, and has filed several motions to that end. See Pl.'s [17] Motion to rescind the parties' settlement agreement, [18] Motion to reinstate his lawsuit, and [22] Motion for a court hearing.*fn1 The Court construed Mr. Johnson's motions as seeking relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) or 60(b), and ordered Mr. Johnson to submit a legal brief explaining why the Court should vacate its Order dismissing this case. Plaintiff filed a response that was filed on the docket on June 20, 2008. See Pl.'s Resp. at 1-3. Penn Camera filed an Opposition on August 1, 2008, which included a declaration from Magistrate Judge Kay describing the circumstances of the parties' settlement meetings and their execution of an agreement. See Def.'s Opp'n at 1-7. Mr. Johnson's former attorney, Karl Carter, also submitted a Response opposing Mr. Johnson's motions on August 6, 2008. See Counsel's Resp. at 1-3. Mr. Johnson submitted a Reply that was docketed on August 25, 2008. See Pl.'s Reply at 1-4 After a thorough review of these submissions, including the attachments thereto, applicable case law, statutory authority, and the record of the case as a whole (including Mr. Johnson's letters and exhibits that he sent to the Court), the Court shall DENY Plaintiff's [17] Motion to rescind the parties' settlement agreement, DENY Plaintiff's [18] Motion to reinstate his lawsuit, and DENY Plaintiff's [22] Motion for a court hearing, for the reasons that follow.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court shall set forth the background relevant to the instant Motions by relying extensively on Magistrate Judge Kay's Declaration, which stands uncontroverted. On March 20, 2008, the Court referred this case to Magistrate Judge Kay for mediation. See Min. Order dated Mar. 20, 2008. The parties and their counsel initially met with Magistrate Judge Kay on April 22, 2008. Def.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 ¶ 1 (hereinafter "Decl. of Magistrate Judge Kay"). Mr. Carter advised Magistrate Judge Kay that "the parties had previously discussed settlement and generally agreed on most issues," including the sum of money to be paid to Plaintiff to settle and dismiss the case. Id. At the meeting, certain provisions of the agreement were discussed in the presence of Magistrate Judge Kay, including confidentiality, a neutral reference, and non-disparagement. Id. At the conclusion of the parties' discussion, "both parties and counsel agreed to execute the agreement."*fn2 Id. Magistrate Judge Kay recalls that Mr. Johnson indicated that he read and understood the agreement and voluntarily signed it:

I specifically asked him if he had read the Agreement and did he now understand it and was he signing voluntarily. He said he was and signed the Agreement in my presence. I retained the original of the Settlement Agreement, made copies for the parties and they left chambers.

Id. Mr. Johnson's attorney, Mr. Carter, has a similar recollection of Mr. Johnson's decision to sign the Settlement Agreement: the Plaintiff signed the agreement before Counsel and Magistrate [Judge] Kay.

No pressure was applied to the Plaintiff nor was there any collusion between counsel for the Plaintiff and Defendant. Plaintiff signed the document of his own free will to the best of observations of Counsel. When Plaintiff signed the document he was asked by the Magistrate if he was familiar with the document and he confirmed that he was familiar with the document and had discussed it with counsel.

[28] Counsel's Resp. to Pl.'s Mot. at 2.

Magistrate Judge Kay notified this Court that the parties had reached a settlement on April 22, 2008. At the request of the parties, the Court dismissed the case without prejudice until May 20, 2008, after which the case would be dismissed with prejudice (allowing the parties this brief period to finalize any arrangements associated with their agreement). See Min. Order dated April 22, 2008.*fn3 Mr. Johnson thereafter sent letters to this Court describing his dissatisfaction with the Settlement Agreement. The letters were forwarded to Magistrate Judge Kay because they related to the parties' settlement negotiations and did not appear to be appropriate for filing on the public docket. At the request of the parties, Magistrate Judge Kay scheduled another meeting for May 7, 2008. Mag. J. Kay Declaration ¶ 2.

During the second meeting with the parties on May 7, 2008, Mr. Johnson's concerns with the Settlement Agreement were discussed. Id. ¶ 4. After an adjournment for a private meeting between Mr. Johnson and Mr. Carter, it was reported to Magistrate Judge Kay that Mr. Johnson was satisfied with the Settlement Agreement. Id. Magistrate Judge Kay then took steps to ensure that was the case:

I specifically asked Mr. Johnson if he had gone over the Settlement Agreement with his attorney and did he now fully understand the Agreement. He was somewhat hesitant and I then asked him if he would like to take some more time to read over the agreement with his attorney. He said he would. I then told Mr. Johnson and Mr. Carter to stay at my conference table in chambers and take whatever time they needed to carefully go over the Agreement.

Id. at 4. After another brief interlude, Magistrate Judge Kay returned and Mr. Carter stated that Mr. Johnson was satisfied with the Settlement Agreement subject to one minor modification to a confidentiality provision. Id. The parties decided on a minor change to Paragraph 12 of the Agreement, which was handwritten into the Settlement Agreement and was initialed by Mr. Johnson (as well as counsel for the parties) in Magistrate Judge Kay's presence. Id. Again, Magistrate Judge Kay asked Mr. Johnson "if he understood the Agreement and was satisfied with the Agreement. He responded that he was." Id. Mr. Johnson's counsel has a similar recollection of the second meeting with Magistrate Judge Kay:

The Judge had him read [the Settlement Agreement] over. [Mr. Johnson] reviewed the document and made changes to the document which were initialed by [Mr. Johnson]. [Mr. Johnson] told the Judge he was agreeing to it. During the course of the discussion with the ...


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