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Giraldes v. Bobbala

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 17, 2019

LARRY GIRALDES, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
M. BOBBALA, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          EDMUND F. BRENNAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding with counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On June 7, 2019, a settlement conference was held before Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman and the parties reached a verbal settlement as to this case (and two others). ECF No. 54. The parties were obligated to file dispositional documents within thirty days of that date. Id. A stipulation for voluntary dismissal with prejudice, signed by plaintiff and attorney Derrek Lee of the California Office of Attorney General, was filed on June 10, 2019. ECF No. 55. The case was closed the next day. ECF No. 56.

         Now, plaintiff has filed two pro se motions - one for reconsideration (ECF No. 57) and another “to vacate order to dismiss as untimely” (ECF No. 59) - both of which argue that: (1) plaintiff was misled by the court during settlement proceedings; (2) that the written settlement terms are “without merit”;[1] and (3) that defendants prematurely moved to dismiss this action before the terms of settlement were complete. Chijioke Ikonte - plaintiff's counsel who represented him in settlement - did not sign either motion. Defendants Bobbala, Bodenhamer, Moghaddam, and Nicolai filed an opposition to the motion to vacate order to dismiss. ECF No. 60. Defendant Sahota filed a joinder to the opposition. ECF No. 61.

         Legal Standards

         I. Settlement Agreements

         “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). “Assessing the validity of a settlement agreement . . . is a question of state contract law.” Golden v. Cal. Emergency Physicians Med. Grp., 782 F.3d 1083, 1087 (9th Cir. 2015) (“Typically, the construction and enforcement of settlement agreements are governed by principles of local law which apply to interpretation of contracts generally.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). Under California law, a valid contract requires parties capable of contracting, consent, a lawful object, and consideration. Cal. Civ. Code § 1550; Lopez v. Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., 118 Cal.App.4th 1224, 1230 (Cal.Ct.App. 2004). “[U]nless a writing is required[2] by the statute of frauds, oral settlement agreements are enforceable in the same manner as oral agreements in general.”

         II. Motion for Reconsideration

         “[A] motion for reconsideration should not be granted, absent highly unusual circumstances, unless the district court is presented with newly discovered evidence, committed clear error, or if there is an intervening change in the controlling law.” 389 Orange St. Partners v. Arnold, 179 F.3d 656, 665 (9th Cir. 1999). A motion for reconsideration “may not be used to raise arguments or present evidence for the first time when they could reasonably have been raised earlier in the litigation.” Kona Enters., Inc. v. Estate of Bishop, 229 F.3d 877, 890 (9th Cir. 2000).

         Analysis

         I. Motion for Reconsideration

         Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration should be denied. This case was closed when plaintiff signed, along with defendants, a stipulation for voluntary dismissal with prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41. ECF No. 55. Plaintiff now seeks “reconsideration” of the “notice of voluntary dismissal” - a text only entry indicating that this case was closed based on the stipulation. ECF No. 56. There is neither newly discovered evidence, clear error on the part of the court, nor an intervening change in the controlling law. Indeed, there was no order of the court closing the case. See Pedrina v. Han Kuk Chun, 987 F.2d 608, 610 (9th Cir. 1993) (“The language of Rule 41(a)(1) is unequivocal. It permits a plaintiff to dismiss an action ‘without order of court.'”) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(1)). If a motion for reconsideration is one seeking a “substantive change of mind by the court, ” see Tripati v. Henman, 845 F.2d 205, 206 n.1 (9th Cir. 1988), then it is inapposite here.[3]

         II. Motion to Vacate

         Plaintiff's motion to vacate should also be denied. He asks the court to “vacate its order to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P 41 as untimely.” ECF No. 59 at 1. As noted supra, this action was dismissed pursuant to a stipulation which plaintiff signed. There is no order to vacate.[4]

         Moreover, in his motion plaintiff states that he signed under the misapprehension that “[s]ettlement was achieved.” Id. He claims that the written terms drafted by the defendants are “significantly meritless and not what was promised at the verbal settlement.” Id. He does not, however, explain how the verbal and written terms differ or how the latter are “meritless.” Nor has plaintiff offered a valid rationale, under local contract law, for attacking the verbal settlement reached on June 7, 2019. There was an oral settlement agreement before Judge Newman. See ECF No. 62 at 20-22. There is no indication that plaintiff was incapable of contracting. See Cal. Civ. Code § 1556 (“All persons are capable of contracting, except minors, persons of unsound mind, and persons deprived of civil rights.”). There was, as the record indicates, consent. ECF No. 62 at 20-22. And plaintiff cannot reasonably argue the absence of either lawful object or consideration. Resolution of pending litigation is a lawful reason to contract. See Stewart v. Preston Pipeline Inc., 134 Cal.App.4th 1565, 1586 (2005) (settlement has lawful ...


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