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Paulo Eugene Guinn v. J. Sturm

March 7, 2013

PAULO EUGENE GUINN,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
J. STURM, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge

(Doc. No. 72)

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS THAT DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO ENFORCE THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT BE GRANTED OBJECTIONS DUE: 21 DAYS

I. INTRODUCTION

On October 9, 2012, Defendants Deputy J. Sturm and Jail Officer A. Bigham ("Defendants") filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement reached on November 10, 2011. (Doc. 72.) Plaintiff did not file an opposition to the motion. For the reasons set forth below, IT IS RECOMMENDED that Defendants' motion to enforce the settlement BE GRANTED.

II. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case was filed on February 22, 2010, by Plaintiff Paulo Eugene Guinn ("Plaintiff") against Defendants J. Sturm, A. Bigham, the County of Mariposa, and Brian Muller, Mariposa County Sheriff.*fn1 A settlement conference was held before the undersigned on November 10, 2011, where the parties reached a settlement subject to the negotiation of Medi-Cal and Medicare liens. The parties memorialized the terms of the agreement in a written document that was signed by the parties and their counsel. Following the settlement, several status conferences were conducted to discuss the status of the Medi-Cal and Medicare liens. The Medicare lien was ultimately calculated to be $16,754.16, and the amount of the lien was included in the formal settlement agreement. However, after formal settlement agreement was drafted, Plaintiff informed his counsel that he was unwilling to sign it. (Doc. 69.)

On October 5, 2012, Plaintiff's counsel filed a motion to withdraw as counsel of record for Plaintiff. (Doc. 70.) On October 9, 2012, Defendants filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement. (Doc. 72.) On November 28, 2012, the parties appeared for the hearings on Plaintiff's counsel's motion to withdraw and Defendants' motion to enforce the settlement. (Doc. 79.) Following the hearings, the Court issued an order granting Plaintiff's counsel's motion to withdraw. (Doc. 80.) On November 29, 2012, the Court ordered Defendants to file a supplemental brief regarding their motion to enforce the settlement and provided Plaintiff 45 days to retain other counsel, i.e., until January 16, 2013. Additionally, Plaintiff's deadline to file an opposition to Defendants' motion to enforce the settlement was extended to January 25, 2013.

On January 25, 2013, Plaintiff file a motion for an extension of time to retain counsel and file an opposition to the motion. (Doc. 85.) Plaintiff was granted an extension until February 15, 2013, to retain new counsel. (Doc. 85.) Any opposition to Defendants' motion to enforce the settlement was to be filed no later than February 22, 2013. (Doc. 85.) As of the date of these Findings and Recommendations, Plaintiff has neither retained new counsel nor filed an opposition to Defendants' motion to enforce the settlement.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

"It is well settled that a district court has the equitable power to enforce summarily an agreement to settle a case pending before it." Callie v. Near, 829 F.2d 888, 890 (9th Cir. 1987). To be enforced, the settlement must meet two requirements: (1) it must be a complete agreement, id. at 890 (citing Azvagcilar v. Davis, 701 F.2d 306, 308 (4th Cir. 1983)); and (2) both parties must have either agreed to the terms of the settlement or authorized their respective counsel to settle the dispute, Harrop v. Western Airlines, Inc., 550 F.2d 1143, 1144-45 (9th Cir. 1977). Summary enforcement is appropriate unless there is a dispute as to the existence or terms of the settlement agreement. Adams v. Johns-Manville Corp., 876 F.2d 702, 708 (9th Cir. 1989). An agreement to settle a federal case is a contract governed by the applicable state law. Botefur v. City of Eagle Point, 7 F.3d 152, 156 (9th Cir. 1993) ("The interpretation of a settlement agreement is governed by principles of state contract law, . . . even where a federal cause of action is settled or released" (citations and quotation marks omitted)).

"Under California law, the intent of the parties determines the meaning of the contract." United Commercial Ins. Serv., Inc. v. Paymaster Corp., 962 F.2d 853, 856 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1636, 1638). The proper inquiry is the parties' objective intent, "that is, the intent manifested in the agreement and by surrounding conduct -- rather than the subjective beliefs of the parties." Id. Therefore, if a party does not express his or her true intent as to the meaning of a material term of a settlement agreement, that subjective intent is irrelevant. Id. Moreover, when parties intend that an agreement be binding, the fact that a more formal agreement must be prepared and executed does not alter the validity of the agreement. Blix Street Records, Inc. v. Cassidy, 191 Cal. App. 4th 39, 48 (2010).

California has a strong policy in favor of enforcing settlement agreements. Osumi v. Sutton, 151 Cal. App. 4th 1355, 1357 (2007). A settlement agreement "must be interpreted as to give effect to the mutual intention of the parties as it existed at the time of contracting." Roden v. Bergen Brunswig Corp., 107 Cal. App. 4th 620, 625 (2003); see Cal. Civ. Code § 1636. When the agreement is in writing, "the intention . . . is to be ascertained from the writing alone, if possible."

Brinton v. Bankers Pension Servs., Inc., 76 Cal. App. 4th 550, 559 (1999); see Cal. Civ. Code § 1639. "[C]courts will not set aside contracts for mere subjective misinterpretation." Hedging Concepts, Inc. v. First Alliance Mortg. Co., 41 Cal. App. 4th 1410, 1421 (1996). "A settlement agreement, like any other contract, is unenforceable if the parties fail to agree on a material term or if a material term is not reasonably certain." Lindsay v. Lewandowski, 139 Cal. App. 4th 1618, 1622 (2006).

B. Analysis

In this case, the parties executed a written settlement agreement on November 10, 2011. (Doc. 72-2, Exhibit A, p. 6-7.) The written agreement indicates that a "more formal Settlement and Release Agreement" would be prepared, but the November 10, 2011, writing sets forth the terms agreed to by the parties. The November 10, 2011, agreement is a hand-written document stating that the parties "hereby agree to fully settle [and] resolve any and all claims relating to Case No. 1:10-cv-00320-LJO-SKO filed in the United States District Court, Eastern District of California Fresno." (Doc. 72-2, p. 6.) Defendants agreed to (1) pay Plaintiff $35,000 and (2) waive the right to reimbursement of the funds they had already paid toward Plaintiff's medical bills. Plaintiff agreed that he was to be fully responsible for any Medicare and/or Medi-Cal liens, and that no settlement funds could or would be released to him unless and until the said liens had been resolved. Specifically, the November 10, 2011, writing stated that "[t]his settlement will be conditioned upon a release of lien or lien payoff statement by Medi[c]are and Medi-Cal. Plaintiff agrees to be fully responsible for any Medi[c]are and/or Medi-Cal liens and understands that no settlement funds can/will be released to him unless and until said liens have been resolved." (Doc. 72-2, p. 6.) Plaintiff agreed that he would not disclose ...


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