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Settlement Is Client’s Choice, 2nd Circ. Says

(CN) - The final decision to settle a case is up to a litigant, not their attorney, the Second Circuit ruled Thursday.

Manuel Gomez, a former New York City Police Department officer, said he was fired after being attacked by a group of people while he was off duty in 2009. Gomez was arrested by other NYPD cops and detained for five days without medical care for three broken ribs, according to a lawsuit he originally filed in 2012.

Criminal charges against Gomez stemming from his arrest were eventually dismissed but he was still fired after an NYPD hearing over the off-duty incident, the complaint states.

Gomez was deployed in Afghanistan when his attorney, Trevor Reid, agreed to a settlement to dismiss most of his claims against New York City.

Six days later, Gomez filed a pro se motion to reopen the case because Reid filed the stipulation without his consent. But a Southern New York district court denied the motion without a hearing, finding that parties are bound by the actions of their chosen attorney, according to court records.

On Thursday, the Second Circuit vacated the lower court's decision to not reopen the case. A three-judge panel found that "the rule deeming a party bound by the acts of his or her attorney is not absolute." It held that Gomez was entitled to a hearing on his motion.

"Within days of the stipulation's signing, Gomez filed a pro se motion for relief from the stipulation and a detailed letter setting forth his assertion that Reid lacked the authority to dismiss his claims," the per curiam ruling states. "Because the presumption that an attorney-of-record has authority to settle a case is rebuttable, the district court should not have denied Gomez's motion without holding an evidentiary hearing to address Reid's authority to dismiss Gomez's claims."

The New York City-based appeals court remanded the case for a finding of whether Reid had authority to agree to a dismissal of Gomez's claims.

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