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Gregory Tabarez v. Diana Butler

July 7, 2011

GREGORY TABAREZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DIANA BUTLER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

I. Introduction

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel (or "pro se") with a civil rights action. On January 19, 2011, the undersigned recommended that plaintiff's motion to rescind the settlement agreement be denied and that defendants' motion to enforce the settlement agreement be granted. On March 31, 2011, the Honorable Lawrence K. Karlton adopted the findings and recommendations except for the finding that plaintiff understood the nature of the settlement agreement and appreciated its consequences based on his alleged medical condition. Judge Karlton remanded this issue to the undersigned for an evidentiary hearing.

On July 1, 2011, the undersigned conducted an evidentiary hearing as ordered by Judge Karlton. Having carefully considered the record and the evidence and testimony received at the evidentiary hearing, the undersigned finds that plaintiff understood the nature of the settlement agreement and appreciated its consequences. Accordingly, plaintiff's motion to rescind the settlement agreement on these grounds should be denied and defendants' motion to enforce the settlement agreement should be granted.

II. Discussion

"The construction and enforcement of settlement agreements are governed by principles of [state] law which apply to contracts generally." Jeff D. v. Andrus, 899 F.2d 753, 759 (9th Cir. 1990). A contract is voidable under Cal. Civil Code § 39(a) if the party had "an inability to understand the nature of the contract and to appreciate its probable consequences." Hellman Commercial Trust & Savings Bank v. Alden, 206 Cal. 592, 605 (1929).

Plaintiff seeks to rescind the settlement agreement on grounds that on the day of the settlement conference, he was allegedly under the influence of pain medication. In his declaration submitted in support of his motion for rescission, plaintiff stated that at the time he accepted the settlement agreement he was on pain medications, and that he felt his "head was spinning," he "could not think straight," he was "in pain," he felt "overwhelmed," and that he needed additional time to think about the settlement agreement. Plaintiff also stated in his declaration that the pain medication made him feel "light-headed, dizzy, sleepy, nauseous, disoriented and high."

At the approximately 5-hour long evidentiary hearing, the undersigned heard testimony and received evidence regarding the effect of the pain medication on plaintiff. This testimony and evidence is summarized below.

Summary of Evidence/Testimony from Evidentiary Hearing On June 23, 2010, plaintiff had surgery at a private hospital for an enlarged prostate. Following his return to prison on the same day, plaintiff was prescribed Tylenol with codeine, aka Tylenol 3, for fourteen days, i.e. from June 23, 2010, to July 7, 2010. On July 27, 2010, plaintiff received a renewal of his Tylenol 3 prescription for 90 days. This prescription was repeatedly renewed until June 2011.

On July 9, 2010, a settlement conference was held in this action. At the settlement conference, plaintiff was represented by attorney Craig Weaver. Magistrate Judge Vadas conducted the settlement conference.

At the evidentiary hearing, plaintiff testified that on the morning of July 9, 2010, he took a Tylenol 3. Plaintiff testified that at the settlement conference he felt drowsy and "kind of sick." Plaintiff also testified that on the day of the settlement agreement, he had also taken high blood pressure medicine and ibuprofen. Plaintiff testified that when Judge Vadas spoke to him, he (plaintiff) was in a daze. Plaintiff testified that when he was on the Tylenol 3, he did not understand what was going on.

Plaintiff admitted at the evidentiary hearing that he did not ask his lawyer to cancel the settlement conference because he felt unwell. Plaintiff also testified that he did not tell his lawyer that he felt dizzy, disoriented or high at the settlement conference. Plaintiff testified that at the conclusion of the settlement conference, he asked his lawyer to seek a continuance so that he could think about the offer. He did not tell his lawyer that he wanted a continuance because he felt unwell. Plaintiff also testified that he did not tell Judge Vadas that he was too ill to participate in the settlement conference.

At the evidentiary hearing, consistent with his detailed declaration in support of the pending motion, plaintiff testified regarding his extensive recollection of the settlement conference. Plaintiff testified that Judge Vadas gave him examples of other cases and told him that he should consider the difficulty he would have in prevailing. Plaintiff testified that Judge Vadas told him that he should understand the costs associated with going to trial. Plaintiff also testified that Mr. Weaver told him that he could not possibly win against defendant Rendon.

Plaintiff also testified that at the settlement conference, he told Judge Vadas and his lawyer that the $4000 offered was not enough. Judge Vadas told plaintiff that the defendants were not going to budge. Plaintiff then asked for time to think about the proposed offer. Judge Vadas told him that he had to decide that day whether or not to accept the deal. Plaintiff testified that at the settlement conference, Judge Vadas also told him that as ...


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