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Tribblett v. City of Jackson

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

September 30, 2019

CAMILE TRIBBLETT, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF JACKSON, ET AL., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          R. STEVEN WHALEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On June 6, 2019, I conducted a settlement conference, at the conclusion of which the parties reached a settlement that was placed on the record. See Transcript of Settlement, ECF No. 31. Defendants have now filed a Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement [ECF No. 27], stating that “Plaintiff has refused to sign the release that was approved by all counsel of record, thereby depriving Defendants of the benefit of their bargain.” ECF No. 27, Page.ID.95-96.

         I. FACTS

         Following settlement negotiations on June 6, 2019, at which all parties were represented by counsel, the terms of the settlement were placed on the record, and Plaintiff was questioned as to both her understanding and acceptance of the agreement. Plaintiff’s counsel stated the terms as follows:

“MR. TRAINOR: In lieu of proceeding any further and taking this to trial, Ms. Tribblett has agreed to accept $15, 000 as full and final resolution of this matter and can never come back to this Court again on this case.”

ECF No. 31, Page.ID.129.[1] Defense counsel added that “there will be an execution of a full release.” Id.

         Plaintiff then testified under oath that she understood that she was settling the case for $15, 000; that she had the right to forward with a trial at which she might obtain more money, less money, or no money at all; that no one forced her to accept this agreement and that she was satisfied with the settlement amount and with the services of her attorney; that her attorney was entitled to fees and costs out of the settlement amount, and that she would net about $7, 929.00; and that she was “okay with that.” When asked by the Court if she had any question, she replied that she did not. Transcript, ECF No. 31, Page.ID.130-132.

         The Plaintiff’s response to this motion states, “[I]t is Plaintiff’s wish to set aside the settlement that she agreed to on June 6, 2019, and Plaintiff’s counsel is ethically duty bound to represent her and respect her wishes. Accordingly, and given Plaintiff’s wishes, the settlement agreement should be set aside.” ECF No. 28, Page.ID.119.

         II. LEGAL PRINCIPLES

         This Court has the equitable power to enforce a settlement agreement, Brock v. Scheuner Corp., 841 F.2d 151, 154 (6th Cir.1988), that remedy being contained to cases where there is no dispute or ambiguity as to either the entry into, or the terms of the agreement. Kukla v. National Distillers Products Co., 483 F.2d 619, 621 (6th Cir.1973). Thus, "[b]efore enforcing settlement, the district court must conclude that agreement has been reached on all material terms." Brock, 841 F.2d at 154. See also Therma-Scan, Inc. v. Thermoscan, Inc., 217 F.3d 414, 419 -420 (6th Cir. 2000).

         Once the parties have agreed on settlement, the strengths or weaknesses of their respective litigation positions are beside the point. “Once concluded, a settlement agreement is as binding, conclusive, and final as if it had been incorporated into a judgment and the actual merits of the antecedent claims will not thereafter be examined.” Bostick Foundry Co. v. Lindberg, 797 F.2d 280, 283 (6th Cir. 1986).

         “Settlement agreements are a type of contract and are therefore governed by contract law.” Bamerilease Capital Corp. v. Nearburg, 958 F.2d 150, 152 (6th Cir.1992). Therefore, “whether a settlement agreement is a valid contract between the parties is determined by reference to state substantive law governing contracts generally.” Id. In Michigan (as in most, if not all American jurisdictions), “[t]he primary goal in the construction or interpretation of any contract is to honor the intent of the parties.” Rasheed v. Chrysler Corp., 445 Mich. 109, 127 n. 28, 517 N.W.2d 19 (1994).

         As part of its inherent power to enforce a settlement agreement, the Court may require a party to sign releases or other documents reflecting the terms of the settlement. Jaynes v. Austin, 20 Fed.App’x 421, 426 (6th Cir. 2001), citing Aro Corp. v. Allied Witan Co., 531 F.2d 1368, 1371-72 (6th Cir. 1976).

         III. ...


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