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McCormack v. City of Westland

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 30, 2018

MARIA MCCORMACK, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WESTLAND, et al., Defendants.

         ORDER (1) GRANTING WESTLAND DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO ENFORCE SETTLEMENT (ECF #76), (2) GRANTING HIGHLAND LANDSCAPE DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO ENFORCE SETTLEMENT (ECF #77), (3) DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION RE PROPOSED ORAL SETTLEMENT AFTER THE COURT ENTERED AN ORDER FINDING DEFENDANTS VIOLATED PLAINTIFF'S RIGHTS (ECF #78), AND (4) REQUIRING PLAINTIFF TO EXECUTE NECESSARY SETTLEMENT DOCUMENTS

          MATTHEW F. LEITMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff Maria McCormack (“Plaintiff”) has asserted claims against the City of Westland, the Wayne Westland Fire Association, Highland Landscape and Snowplowing, and a number of individually-named defendants (collectively, the “Defendants”). Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants unlawfully entered onto her real property and then took and/or damaged her personal property. (See Am. Compl., ECF #32.)

         On October 17, 2017, the parties participated in a settlement conference conducted by the Court. (See Oct. 17, 2017 Conf. Tr., ECF #66.) At the conclusion of the conference, the parties reached an agreement to settle the case, and they placed that agreement on the record. (See id.) Counsel for the parties then proceeded to memorialize the agreement in two formal written settlement agreements - one between Plaintiff and the Westland Defendants[1] and another between Plaintiff and the Highland Landscaping Defendants.[2] Plaintiff's counsel at the time was satisfied with the form of both agreements, but Plaintiff now refuses to execute the agreements and to honor the agreed-upon terms.

         As a result, the Westland Defendants have filed a motion to enforce the October 17, 2017, settlement. (See ECF #76.) Likewise, the Highland Landscaping Defendants have filed a motion to enforce the October 17, 2017, settlement. (See ECF #77.) In response, Plaintiff has filed her own motion in which she asks the Court to hold at least certain terms of the settlement unenforceable. (See ECF #78.) For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS the Westland Defendants' motion, GRANTS the Highland Landscape Defendants' motion, and DENIES Plaintiff's motion.[3]

         I

         A

         Plaintiff lives in the City of Westland, Michigan. She does not get along with her next door neighbors, the Meads. Due in part to her conflict with them, she hung tarps along the fence that separates her yard from theirs. Thereafter, certain employees of the City of Westland and of Highland Landscape & Snowplowing entered onto Plaintiff's property without a warrant and removed some of the tarps.

         On December 31, 2015, Plaintiff filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She alleges, among other things, that the Defendants violated her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (See Compl., ECF #1; Am. Compl., ECF #32.) Following substantial discovery, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on her claim that the Defendants violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment. (See ECF #40.) In an Order dated August 10, 2017, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff (on liability only) against a number of the Defendants. (See ECF #60.)

         B

         On October 17, 2017, the Court held a settlement conference in this action. Plaintiff attended along with her retained counsel. Representatives of the Defendants also attended with retained counsel.

         The Court began the conference by confirming with the parties that they wished to have the Court (as opposed to some other judicial officer or private mediator) conduct the settlement conference. (See Oct. 17, 2017 Conf. Tr. at 5-7, ECF #66 at Pg. ID 871-73.) The Court then described its “judicial approach” to settlement. (Id. at 8, Pg. ID 874.) The Court explained that it would meet separately with each side, during which it would provide a “neutral detached person's view” of the case and “share with [each side] the reasons I think you should settle.” (Id.) The Court obtained each party's consent to the settlement process it described. (See Id. at 6-7, 9-10, Pg. ID 872-73, 875-76.)

         The Court also explained to the parties that, in its experience, settlements are achieved when both sides are unhappy with at least some aspects of the agreement:

Lastly, what I want to say is a word to the non-lawyers here, Ms. McCormack and the folks sitting in the back, about my experience in terms of where cases settle. Cases don't settle when one side feels really good about the results because if one side feels really good and is really happy about the amount of money they got or the amount of money they paid, then the other side is not happy, and settlements happen, in my experience, when each side is equally unhappy. Cases settle when the plaintiff feels like he or she did not get enough and the defendant feels like he or she paid too much.
So if anybody in here is thinking that are going to walk out of here feeling great with a settlement is, in my view, not being realistic about how cases settle. They settle where neither side feels great because each side has taken into account the risks and benefits of litigation. So what I'm going to work for is a resolution that is fair to both parties, that nobody loves, but that everybody says is a sensible resolution of this dispute.

(Id. at 9, Pg. ID 875.)

         The Court then met with each side and their lawyers in separate rooms. The conversations were at times stressful and animated. But with hard work and careful consideration, the parties reached an agreement after several hours of negotiations. The parties then reconvened on the record. The Court recited the material terms of the agreement reached by the parties on the record:

• The Westland Defendants would pay Plaintiff $94, 500, and the Highland Landscape Defendants would pay Plaintiff a settlement amount (see id at 13, Pg. ID 879);
• The Westland Defendants would arrange for and provide the installation of a privacy fence separating Plaintiff's property from her neighbors' property (see id.);
• The Westland Defendants and Plaintiff would consult over the type of fence to be installed. Any unresolved disputes over the fence to be installed would be presented to the Court, and the Court would “conclusively decide on the fence to be installed” (see id.);
• The City of Westland would designate a particular city employee to be the contact person for Plaintiff for any questions or concerns about ordinance enforcement (see id.);
• The City of Westland would designate a particular city employee to be the contact person for any other disputes she may have with the City (see id at 13-14, Pg. ID 879-80);
• Plaintiff would release her claims that she asserted or could have asserted against the Defendants (see id at 14, Pg. ID 880);
• The parties would memorialize their agreement in writing (see Id. at 14-15, Pg. ID 880-81); and
• If and to the extent there were “any disputes [between the parties] over the effort to reduce the agreed-upon terms to writing, the disputes [would] be presented to [the Court] and [the Court would] make the final determination of which language appropriately captures the terms on which the parties have agreed.” (Id.)

         After the Court announced these terms on the record, it had the following exchange with Plaintiff and her attorney, Elizabeth Downey:

THE COURT: . . . I believe that I have identified all of the terms of the agreement, but let me ask you, Ms. Downey, first of all, do you agree with the terms as I have stated them?
MS. DOWNEY: Yes, Your Honor, we agree with those terms, and we rely on the city's good faith to get [city] council moving on this, and we will cooperate in the drafting of the agreements.
THE COURT: Thank you. All right. Ms.
McCormack, let me ask you directly, did you hear the terms that I just orally announced here ...

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