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Flores v. Jewels Marketing and Agribusiness

April 12, 2010

JOE FLORES, AND M&G FARMS, INC., PLAINTIFFS ,
v.
JEWELS MARKETING AND AGRIBUSINESS, ET. AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anthony W. Ishii Chief United States District Judge

ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO ENFORCE SETTLEMENT, PLAINTIFFS' MOTION AND REQUEST FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES, AND DEFENDANTS' REQUEST TO INTERPLEAD (Doc. Nos. 121, 122)

This is a PACA case that was brought by Joe Flores ("Flores") and M&G Farms ("M&G") against Jewels Marketing and related Jewels personnel (collectively "Jewels"). The case appeared to have settled following a mediation in October 2009. Settlement became complicated when third parties attempted to intervene in the case and prevent execution of the settlement agreement. The third party's attempts were ultimately unsuccessful, but this case remains on-going. Currently pending before the Court are M&G's motion to enforce settlement agreement and motion for attorney's fees, Flores's request for costs/fees, and Defendants' request to interplead settlement funds. For the reasons that follow, the request to interplead settlement funds will be denied, M&G's motions will be denied, Flores's request for attorney's fees will be denied, and the parties will either file a stipulation for dismissal or a status report.

GENERAL BACKGROUND

M&G contends that Defendants owe it money under a marketer-grower agreement. Flores seeks damages against Jewels as a partial assignee of M&G. Third parties consisting of Mirabella Farms, Phillipe Markarian, and Paquerette Markarian ("Mirabella") filed a notice of judgment lien against Flores on June 3, 2008. See Court's Docket Doc. No. 64. The lien was filed pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure § 708.410*fn1 in the amount of $49,537.86. Id.

The Court granted Jewels's motion to compel arbitration on July 9, 2007. See id. at Doc. No. 58. Plaintiffs resisted arbitration, and eventually the parties went to mediation. The mediation lasted over two sessions (July 24, 2009, and October 21, 2009). At the first session, Flores was present. At the second session, Flores was not present. Flores states that Defendants' attorney insisted that Flores not attend. Settlement was achieved during the second session. The settlement provides for dismissal of "the claims and case with prejudice" in exchange for $41,000. See id. at Doc. No. 124 Exhibit A. The $41,000 was to go to M&G only. See id. No provision is made for Flores to receive any money. See id. The settlement is signed by representatives for M&G, representatives for Jewels, and Flores. See id.

On October 28, 2009, the parties informed the Court that settlement had been achieved and that dismissal papers that would dispose of the action would be filed within thirty days. See id. at Doc. No. 113.

On October 29, 2009, Mirabella contacted Jewels and demanded that the settlement funds not be turned over to M&G. See Doc. No. 147 at ¶ 7. The basis for the demand was Mirabella's lien against Flores. See id. Mirabella viewed the settlement as a ruse to fraudulently avoid the judgment lien. See id. at ¶ 14, Exhibit 7; Court's Docket Doc. No. 126 at p. 6.

On November 12, 2009, Flores filed a request for dismissal, which included a copy of the settlement agreement. See Court's Docket Doc. No. 114. Flores requested dismissal without prejudice. See id. Given the time frame and the attached and signed settlement agreement, the Court believed it was receiving the dismissal papers alluded to in the parties' October 28 filing.

See id. at Doc. No. 152. To conform to the settlement agreement, the case was dismissed with prejudice on November 17, 2009. See id. at Doc. No. 116.

On November 24, 2009, M&G moved for reconsideration of the dismissal, moved to enforce the settlement agreement, and moved for attorney's fees.*fn2 See id. at Doc. Nos. 117, 121, 122. Reconsideration was requested because the dismissal was filed only on behalf of Flores, the $41,000 had not been paid, and M&G and Jewels were in negotiations over the lack of payment. See id. at Doc. No. 117.

On December 4, 2009, Mirabella moved to intervene. See id. at Doc. No. 126. Mirabella argued that it was entitled to a portion of the $41,000 settlement and the plaintiffs were fraudulently trying to structure the settlement to avoid the judgment lien. See id.

On January 8, 2010, Defendants filed an opposition to the motions for settlement enforcement and attorney's fees. See id. at Doc. No. 146. Jewels stated in part that, during negotiations with M&G regarding payment of the $41,000, M&G's counsel stated that M&G had already paid Flores $6,150. See id. Defendants also requested to interplead the $41,000 and attached a proposed interpleader complaint. See id.

On January 22, 2010, the Court granted reconsideration of the dismissal order and reopened the case. See id. at Doc. No. 152. The Court granted reconsideration because the requested dismissal had been misinterpreted by the Court and ...


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