United States District Court, D. Maryland
MICHAEL K. FISHER, Plaintiff,
DORIS R. FISHER, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge.
Report and Recommendations addresses the Motions to Reopen
filed by Defendant Doris R. Fisher and Plaintiff Michael K.
Fisher, and the Motion to Strike filed by Plaintiff.
See [ECF Nos. 107, 112, 113]. On October 13, 2016,
Judge Russell referred this case to me to review the motions,
oppositions, and replies, and to make recommendations
concerning how to proceed. See [ECF No. 120]. For
the reasons discussed herein, I recommend that all of the
pending motions be DENIED, but that the above-captioned case
be REOPENED AND DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
April 19, 2011, Plaintiff, son of the Decedent Robert K.
Fisher, filed a Complaint against the Defendant,
Decedent's second wife, seeking equitable enforcement of
contractual and ancillary agreements underlying two mutual
and reciprocal wills executed respectively by the Decedent
and the Decedent's first wife in 1993. See [ECF
No. 1]. Plaintiff also sought, among other things, punitive
damages against the Defendant for tortious interference with
the above contracts and Plaintiff's expectancy.
Id. On May 1, 2013, Judge Quarles granted the
parties' request to stay this case pending the outcome of
related litigation in state court, and administratively
closed this case, subject to reopening on motion of the
parties. [ECF No. 105].
February, 2010, Defendant had initiated a caveat proceeding
against Plaintiff in the Circuit Court of Anne Arundel
County, Maryland (Michael K. Fisher v. Doris R.
Fisher, Case No. 02-C-10-154548 OA). Def.'s Mot.
[ECF No. 107-1 at 3]. Defendant contended that Decedent's
2005 Will, which favored Defendant, superseded the 1993 Will,
which favored Plaintiff. Id. A jury determined the
2005 Will to be invalid, and entered a verdict in
Plaintiff's favor on June 30, 2014. Id.
Defendant appealed the decision to the Court of Special
Appeals of Maryland (Doris Fisher v. Michael Fisher,
1336 ST 2014). Pl.'s Opp. [ECF No. 110 at 6]. Pl.'s
Mot. [ECF No. 113-1 at 2]. The parties participated in
Court-ordered mediation on November 21, 2014, and purportedly
entered into a written Settlement Agreement containing a
global release from all past and future litigation
(“2014 state Settlement Agreement”). Def.'s
Mot. [ECF No. 107-1 at 2, 5]. Pl.'s Opp. [ECF No. 110 at
10]. On March 18, 2015, however, the Maryland Court of
Special Appeals entered an order terminating mediation
because “the parties have been unable to settle the
issues raised by the appeal.” Pl.'s Opp. [ECF No.
110 at Exhibit 1]. Ultimately, Defendant's appeal was
dismissed on June 2, 2015. Pl.'s Mot. [ECF No. 113-1 at
December 30, 2015, in this Court, Defendant filed a Motion to
Reopen Case and Enforce Settlement Agreement. See
Def.'s Mot. [ECF No. 107]. Invoking the Court's
“inherent authority and equitable power to enforce
settlement agreements executed by parties in order to resolve
litigation pending before the Court, ” Defendant asks
the Court to reopen the instant case for purposes of (1)
enforcing the 2014 state Settlement Agreement, and (2)
dismissing this case with prejudice. Def.'s Mot. [ECF No.
107-1 at 7, 17 (citing Millner v. Norfolk & W. Ry.
Co., 643 F.2d 1005, 1009 (4th Cir. 1981)).
filing a response in opposition to Defendant's motion as
well as a motion to strike Defendant's motion, [ECF Nos.
110 & 112], Plaintiff filed his own Motion to Reopen
seeking declaratory judgment that the 2014 state Settlement
Agreement is invalid and unenforceable.See
Pl.'s Mot. [ECF No. 113]. Plaintiff also asks the Court
to deny Defendant's Motion to Reopen and to keep the
instant case administratively closed or, alternatively, set
“all issues so triable including on these additional
issues” to trial by jury. Pl.'s Opp. [ECF No. 110
at 24]. Plaintiff concedes, however, that the breach of
contract claims raised in the instant federal case were
“rendered moot by the Circuit Court's judgment of
June 30, 2014 and by the Circuit Court's determination
that the Decedent and [Defendant] were in a relationship
confidence and trust throughout their marriage.”
Id. at 12.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
parties now ask this Court to opine on the validity of the
2014 state Settlement Agreement, which was not part of the
original federal complaint filed in 2011. The burden of
demonstrating that an action lies within a federal
court's jurisdiction “rests upon the party
asserting jurisdiction.” Barbour v. Int'l.
Union, 640 F.3d 599, 605 (4th Cir. 2011) (en banc),
abrogated on other grounds by 28 U.S.C. §
1446(b)(2)(B) (citations omitted). “Generally, a
district court may not enforce a Settlement Agreement unless
‘the agreement [has] been approved and incorporated
into an order of the court, or, at the time the court is
requested to enforce the agreement, there exists some
independent ground upon which to base federal
jurisdiction.” Columbus-America Discovery Group v.
Atlantic Mut. Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 291, 299 (4th Cir.
2000) (citing Fairfax Countywide Citizens Ass'n v.
Fairfax County, 571 F.2d 1299, 1303 (4th Cir. 1978)).
See also Simmons v. United Mortgage and Loan Inv.,
LLC, 634 F.3d 754 (4th Cir. 2011) (“[District
courts” lack the power to enforce the terms of a
settlement agreement absent jurisdiction over a breach of
contract action for failure to comply with the settlement
agreement.”). Moreover, “[e]nforcement of a
settlement agreement is essentially an action for breach of
contract, which is governed by state and not federal
law.” Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. v. Ashleigh
Heights LLC, 261 F.Supp. 2d. 332, 333 (D. Md. 2002).
out above, to establish jurisdiction to grant the
parties' requested relief, the parties must either show
that the 2014 state Settlement Agreement was incorporated
into an order of this Court or that federal jurisdiction
exists on some independent basis. The parties do not allege,
nor do I find, that this Court entered any order with a
provision expressly reserving the Court's jurisdiction to
enforce a private settlement agreement in this matter, or
otherwise approving and incorporating the Settlement
Agreement in question. In fact, this case has been stayed and
administratively closed since 2013, before the 2014 state
Settlement Agreement was even written. Therefore, the parties
must alternatively demonstrate that the instant dispute falls
within the Court's subject matter jurisdiction. The
parties have failed to do so.
of the pending motions, oppositions, and replies, the parties
reference a single inapposite case to suggest that the Court
has jurisdiction to make determinations concerning the 2014
state Settlement Agreement. Def.'s Mot. [ECF No. 107-1 at
7]. In Millner v. Norfolk & W. Ry. Co., the
parties reached a private settlement agreement concerning an
action pending before the federal district court.
Millner, 643 F.2d at 1006. The question on appeal
was whether the District Court could summarily enforce the
settlement agreement. Id. at 1008. Contrary to
Defendant's claim, Millner does not recognize
the trial court's general “inherent equitable power
summarily to enforce a settlement agreement, ” Def.
Mot. [ECF No. 107-1 at 7], but rather limits this authority
to instances “when the practical effect is merely to
enter a judgment by consent … ‘admirably suited
to situations where, for example, a binding settlement
bargain is conceded as shown, and the excuse for
nonperformance is comparatively unsubstantial.'”
Millner, 643 F.2d at 1009 (citations omitted). Here,
the 2014 state Settlement Agreement is far from resolved.
Also, unlike in Millner, the instant Settlement
Agreement arose not from the federal litigation pending
before this Court (GLR-11-1038), but from a separate state
action before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals
(Doris Fisher v. Michael Fisher, 1336 ST 2014). As
such, enforcement or invalidation of the 2014 state
Settlement Agreement is effectively a contract matter
governed by state law, over which this Court patently lacks
subject matter jurisdiction. See Columbia Gas
Transmission Corp., 261 F.Supp. 2d. at 333 (declining to
consider enforcement of a settlement agreement even where it
was reached in the underlying federal proceeding).
addition to seeking enforcement of the 2014 state Settlement
Agreement, Defendant seeks to have this case reopened and
dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff likewise admits that
“[t]he breach-of-contract claims raised in the
above-captioned action [have] been rendered moot by the
Circuit Court's judgment of June 30, 2014.”
Pl.'s Opp. [ECF No. 110 at 12 ¶ 36]. Since both
parties agree that the claims raised in this 2011 federal
lawsuit are fully resolved, I recommend that this case be
reopened and dismissed with prejudice.