NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
This opinion shall not "constitute precedent or be binding upon any court ." Although it is posted on the
internet, this opinion is binding only on the parties in the case and its use in other cases is limited. R. 1:36-3.
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-2695-19
ESTATE OF ALBERT GRIMALDI,
Submitted March 9, 2021 – Decided March 24, 2021
Before Judges Fisher and Gummer.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law
Division, Bergen County, Docket No. DC-017844-19.
De Marco & De Marco, attorneys for appellant
(Michael P. De Marco, on the briefs).
Basile Birchwale & Pellino, LLP, attorneys for
respondent (Stephen F. Pellino, on the brief).
For many years before and until his death on November 24, 2016, Albert
Grimaldi resided with plaintiff Anahid Karoyan in a two-family Ridgefield
home titled in Albert's name. After Albert's Will, which granted plaintiff a life
estate in one of the two units on the Ridgefield property, was offered into
probate, his two surviving adult children commenced suit, alleging plaintiff
unduly influenced the Will and certain inter vivos transfers. In settling that
action, plaintiff gave up her life estate and some of the inter vivos transfers.
Following the settlement, plaintiff submitted a claim to the estate's
executor, alleging she paid $32,163.63 toward renovation of the Ridgefield
property. She provided cancelled checks amounting to $15,563.63 and asserted
she had made cash payments of $16,600; the estate responded that it would
reimburse the former but not the latter. The estate's attorney explained the
estate's position to plaintiff in a letter in which he also enclosed a release for
plaintiff to sign if she agreed. The release stated that plaintiff "will be paid a
total of $15,563.63, in full payment of making this [r]elease" by which she
"agree[d] that [she] will not seek anything further including any other payment
from" the estate. Plaintiff signed the release and received $15,563.63 from the
estate in May 2019.
In September 2019, plaintiff commenced this Special Civil Part suit
seeking $16,600 in damages from the estate. In moving for summary judgment,
the estate argued that the executed release barred plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff
submitted a certification in opposition, asserting that although she was
represented by counsel in the undue-influence probate suit, she was not
represented by counsel when she engaged in the discussions and
communications that led to the $15,563.63 payment and execution of the release.
She also contended that she believed the $15,563.63 payment was a partial
payment of the $32,163.63 that she thought remained due and that she would
never have agreed to accept less than half of what she believed was owed. In
granting summary judgment in the estate's favor, the judge provided a brief
written opinion that relied on both the strong public policy in favor of
settlements, Nolan v. Lee Ho,
120 N.J. 465
(1990), and the court's obligation to
enforce a settlement absent a demonstration of "fraud or other compelling
circumstances," Pascarella v. Bruck,
190 N.J. Super. 118
, 124-25 (App. Div.
Plaintiff appeals, arguing that the estate failed to submit, in support of its
summary judgment motion, a statement of material facts, see R. 4:46-2, and that
the judge erred in granting the summary judgment motion not only for that
reason but "because there were genuine issues of fact as to whether the release
should be enforced." We find insufficient merit in these arguments to warrant
further discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).
We add only that the communications that preceded the resolution of
plaintiff's $32,163.63 claim plainly and unambiguously demonstrated that the
estate was agreeable to paying plaintiff $15,563.63 in full settlement and that,
by accepting this amount, plaintiff would seek nothing further. Plaintiff
attempts to avoid her agreement with the estate by claiming she was
unrepresented by counsel at the time; that, however, was her choice. While she
was entitled to retain counsel during those discussions, she did not have the right
to disavow her promise to seek nothing further because she chose to go it alone,
nor was the agreement void or voidable due to the absence of counsel .
Plaintiff also argues that the transaction was the product of mistake; she
claims she believed the release applied to the resolved portion of her claim, not
the disputed $16,600 remainder. There was no mistake. The document she
signed when paid $15,563.63 stated in plain English that by signing the release
and accepting the payment, plaintiff was releasing the remainder of her claim
and would be unable to seek "anything further" from the estate. There was no
genuine dispute, and the trial judge properly entered summary judgment.