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Thomas v. Antipov

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 2, 2016

JAMAAL THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
ANTIPOV, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          EDMUND F. BRENNAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On May 20, 2015, United States Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman presided over a settlement conference, which resulted in the parties’ agreement to settle this case. ECF No. 142. Upon confirmation that a settlement had been reached, the terms of the settlement were stated on the record. Id. Thereafter, however, plaintiff sent a letter to Judge Newman stating that he (plaintiff) had decided to “decline” defendants’ settlement “offer.” ECF No. 144. Judge Newman responded by order that “[t]he record reflects that all parties agreed to the terms of the settlement in open court.” ECF No. 143. Plaintiff now moves for a second settlement conference. ECF No. 147. Defendants move to enforce the settlement agreement. ECF No. 149.

         I. Background

         The current dispute centers around a portion of the settlement agreement in which plaintiff agreed to substitute the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) for defendants in this action for purposes of settlement. According to plaintiff, when the substitution was discussed at the settlement conference, “vital information was withheld from plaintiff and suppressed by Defendants.” Plaintiff states that this “vital information” is the fact that one purpose for the defendants wanting the substitution as a condition of settlement was for “keeping defendants’ records ‘clean’ before the Medical License Board.” ECF No. 150 at 4. Plaintiff states that, if he had known this motivation by defense, he would not have agreed to the settlement. He also states that there is some language in the proposed written settlement agreement (which he does not identify) that he does not understand. While not entirely clear, it appears that plaintiff has not asked for clarification of the language from defense counsel. Instead, plaintiff would like Judge Newman to hold a new settlement conference to clarify the language.

         The recording of the proceeding in which the settlement was placed on the record confirms that a settlement agreement was in fact reached. It also confirms that all parties were aware of the condition insisted upon by defendants that the CDCR be substituted in place of the individually named defendants. Defense counsel noted on the record that the substitution was “for settlement purposes.” Judge Newman informed plaintiff, on the record, that the settlement funds would come from CDCR anyway and asked if he objected to the substitution. Plaintiff said no. Later, after the settlement had been confirmed and stated for the record, plaintiff asked if the sole reason for the substitution was because CDCR would be paying the funds. Judge Newman specifically informed plaintiff that another reason was that medical professionals may have various reporting responsibilities as a result of litigation against them, and that the substitution would make things cleaner, noting that the money to fund the settlement was coming from CDCR anyway. Defense counsel agreed, saying unequivocally that defendants wanted the substitution to avoid the reporting requirements.[1] Plaintiff voiced no objection. The settlement was confirmed on the record and the hearing ended.

         II. Analysis

         When the parties to litigation come to an oral agreement to settle the case and agree in open court to the terms of the agreement as they are placed on the record, the parties become bound by the agreement even if they have not yet signed a written settlement agreement. Doi v. Halekulani Corp., 276 F.3d 1131, 1137-38 (9th Cir. 2002). Plaintiff’s contention that “vital information” regarding the substitution of CDCR for the defendant doctors was “withheld” from him is belied by the hearing record, which confirms that Judge Newman and defense counsel straightforwardly informed plaintiff that defendants wanted the substitution to avoid certain reporting requirements. Indeed, it appears that this was precisely the point of defendants’ willingness to compromise in a case that they otherwise would have litigated to judgment. Having been so informed, plaintiff did not raise any objection. As confirmed by the record of the settlement proceedings, plaintiff expressly and knowingly agreed to the terms of the settlement in open court and he is now bound by the settlement agreement as stated on the record just as though he had signed a written agreement containing those terms. Doi, 276 F.3d at 1137-38.

         As to plaintiff’s claim that he needs help understanding certain unidentified portions of the written agreement, Judge Newman directed plaintiff to first seek an explanation of anything in the agreement he did not understand from defense counsel. Plaintiff does not indicate that he has done so, nor does he identify which portions of the agreement are unclear. While plaintiff is free to confer with defense counsel regarding any portions of the agreement that he now claims he does not understand, he has not presented any reason to set aside the terms of the settlement agreement as stated on the record at the time of the court supervised settlement conference.

         III. Conclusion and Recommendation

         For the reasons stated above, the undersigned recommends that:

1. Plaintiffs motion for a second settlement conference (ECF No. 147) be denied without prejudice.
2. Plaintiff be provided a period of 30 days in which to file a new motion for a second settlement conference with Judge Newman. Such a motion must describe the portions of the agreement plaintiff does not understand and indicate that plaintiff has discussed those portions with defense counsel prior to filing the motion.
3. Ruling on defendants’ motion to enforce the settlement agreement (ECF No. 149) be deferred until the resolution of the new motion for a second settlement conference filed by plaintiff or the date on which the time for filing such a motion passes.

         These findings and recommendations are submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Within fourteen days after being served with these findings and recommendations, any party may file written objections with the court and serve a copy on all parties. Such a document should be captioned “Objections to Magistrate Judge’s Findings and Recommendations.” Failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right ...


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