Release of everything, means everything
by Michael Fox
It is nice when the courts provide clarity. In today's decision of Chaplin v. NationsCredit [pdf], the 5th Circuit did just that. Following a disputed claim for benefits, a payment was made in return for a release which included the following language:
"[Plaintiffs] hereby agree to release NCDF from any and all claims, suits, demands, or other causes of action of any kind . . . arising at any time in the unlimited past . . . [including] all claims arising by reason of or in any way connected with [plaintiffs’] employment relationship with NCDF. . . .”
In seeking to reverse a summary judgment, plaintiffs argued that the language was insufficient since it did not specifically mention ERISA. The Court noted: "It would be an odd public policy that favored settlements and releases, but then forced employers to scour the United States Code and the state statutes and reports to identify every possible cause of action." Thankfully, by its holding that a release of all claims, means all claims, unless there is a specific statutory prohibition, the Court provided a bright line for all litigants.
And congratulations to my partner, Bill Strock, who argued it on September 4th.