The Third Department affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s civil rights complaint based upon a release signed by the plaintiff. The court determined that plaintiff’s allegations did not create a question of fact about whether the release was the product of duress. The relevant legal principles, including the principle that contracts signed under duress are voidable, not void, were explained as follows:
Under contract law, a signed release that is clear and unambiguous and knowingly and voluntarily entered into is binding on the parties unless cause exists to invalidate it on one of the recognized bases for setting aside written agreements, including illegality, fraud, mutual mistake, duress or coercion… . A party such as plaintiff seeking to void a written contract on the ground of duress must meet her burden of demonstrating “(1) threats of an unlawful act by one party which (2) compel performance by the other party of an act which it had a legal right to abstain from performing”… .
Moreover, contracts executed under duress are, at most, voidable and not void and, by accepting and retaining the benefits of the second agreement for almost two years and not timely repudiating it, plaintiff affirmed or ratified that agreement, which is binding and no longer voidable on the grounds of duress, which objections are waived… . Nelson v Lattner Enterprises of NY…, 515927, 3rd Dept 7-18-13