United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
ROBERT D. POLZER an individual, Plaintiff,
ALLEGHENY COUNTY; DANIEL KOVACS, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MAUREEN P. KELLY, Magistrate Judge.
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
This case involves a prisoner civil rights action brought by Robert D. Polzer ("Plaintiff" or "Polzer") against Allegheny County (the "County") and Daniel Kovacs ("Kovacs"), a corrections officer at the Allegheny County Jail ("ACJ"), (collectively, "Defendants"). This action results from an alleged physical assault of Plaintiff by Kovacs at the ACJ. Plaintiff contends that the assault caused him to suffer physical injuries, placement in the Disciplinary Housing Unit and criminal charges that were eventually dismissed. He asserts claims for violations of the Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, malicious prosecution, assault and battery as well as other related claims. (ECF No. 26).
The parties engaged in extensive discovery relative to the claims and defenses. On December 12, 2013, this Court conducted a lengthy status conference with counsel and issued a Pretrial Order scheduling the trial of this case to commence on April 7, 2014. (ECF Nos. 43, 46).
On February 24, 2014, during a telephone status conference with Attorney Kenneth Fryncko ("Fryncko"), counsel for Plaintiff, and Attorney Stanley Winikoff ("Winikoff"), counsel for Defendants, this Court raised the possibility of settling this case. Fryncko represented to the Court that he would be meeting with Plaintiff later that week at SCI-Smithfield and would raise the issue with his client at that time.
On March 4 and 5, 2014, the Court conducted telephone status conferences with Fryncko and Winikoff relative to settlement. The Court encouraged counsel to engage in meaningful settlement discussions. (ECF Nos. 69, 70). On March 7, 2014, following a lengthy telephone call between Plaintiff and Fryncko, the case was settled for $16, 000 by Fryncko and Attorney Andrew Szefi ("Szefi"), who was also representing Defendants. (ECF No. 74). Subsequently, the Court was notified that the case had been settled. As such, the case was closed by Order dated March 10, 2014. (ECF No. 71). On the same date, Winikoff forwarded a draft settlement agreement and release to Fryncko. He requested two minor changes. Thereafter, the final settlement agreement, a vendor form and W-9 form were sent to Fryncko. (ECF No. 74 at ¶¶ 10-12).
On March 24, 2014, the Clerk of Court received a letter from Plaintiff stating there had been "a miscommunication" and that he never agreed to settle the case. (ECF No. 72). On April 2, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Reopen Claim (ECF No. 73). On the same date, Defendants file a Petition to Enforce Settlement and Response to Motion to Reopen Claim (the "Petition"). (ECF No. 74) Upon review of Plaintiff's Motion to Reopen Claim and Defendants' Petition, this Court ordered Plaintiff to file a response to the Petition by April 11, 2014. A Motion for Extension of Time was filed by Fryncko, and he was granted an extension of time until April 22, 2014. (ECF No. 77). Fryncko filed a response (ECF No. 78), and a Motion to File Correspondence as Exhibits, ECF No. 84. This Court scheduled a hearing on Plaintiff's Motion to Reopen Claim and Defendants' Petition for April 30, 2014. (ECF No. 77).
II. PENDING MOTIONS
Presently before the Court are two motions filed by Plaintiff and Defendants relative to the settlement that was reported to the Court.
A. Plaintiff's Motion to Reopen Claim (ECF No. 73)
Plaintiff seeks to reopen his case on the ground that he did not agree to settle his case for $16, 000. Plaintiff asserts that he communicated a demand to Fryncko in the amount of $250, 000 and that the condition that criminal charges be filed against Kovacs. Plaintiff then inquired about his counsel's assessment of a possible demand of $75, 000 to $85, 000. Plaintiff states that Fryncko informed him that he thought he could get $15, 000 to $20, 000 and that "he will take that offer." Plaintiff denies that he agreed to accept an offer in that amount. Plaintiff now seeks "to invalidate the settlement." (ECF No. 73).
B. Defendants' Petition to Enforce Settlement and Response to Motion to Reopen Claim (ECF No. 74)
Defendants contend in the Petition to Enforce Settlement (the "Petition") that Fryncko engaged in serious settlement negotiations with counsel for Defendants with full authority from Plaintiff. (ECF No. 74 at ¶¶ 5, 6). They state that Fryncko met with Plaintiff at SCI-Smithfield and also spoke with him by telephone. (Id. at ¶ 7). Defendants further contend that Fryncko and Szefi agreed to settle the case for $16, 000 with full authority from their respective clients. (Id. at ¶¶ 8, 9). An Affidavit from Fryncko supports the Petition and is attached as an exhibit to the Petition. (ECF No. 74-1).
The hearing on Plaintiff's Motion to Reopen Claim and Defendants' Petition was conducted on April 30, 2014, as scheduled. (ECF No. 83). Attorney Fryncko, as counsel of record for Plaintiff, and Attorneys Szefi and Winikoff, counsel for the Defendants, attended in person. ...