United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL United States District Judge
originally initiated this case against Defendant Liberty
Mutual Insurance Company alleging breach of an insurance
contract. See ECF No. 2: ECF No. 23. The case was
eventually closed pursuant to a settlement agreement. ECF No.
35. Now pending before the Court is Plaintiffs Motion to
Reopen Case, ECF No. 44, Defendant's Motion to Enforce
the Settlement Agreement, ECF No. 41, a Motion to Withdraw as
Attorney by Plaintiffs Counsel, ECF No. 40, and
Defendant's Motion to Seal Defendant's Opposition to
Plaintiffs Motion to Withdraw Settlement Claim, ECF No. 42.
No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.
2016). For the following reasons. Plaintiffs Motion to Reopen
Case is denied. Defendant's Motion to Enforce the
Settlement Agreement is granted, the Motion to Withdraw as
Attorney is granted, and the Motion to Seal is denied.
Jane Dern brought suit against Defendant Liberty Mutual
Insurance Co. after her home, which was insured by Defendant,
was damaged in a fire on May 22, 2014. See ECF No.
2. Dern alleged that "despite [her] good-faith efforts
to resolve the matter. . . Defendant h[as] refused to move
forward in good faith and h[as] continually pressured the
Plaintiff to sign paperwork and settle the claim in such a
way that would not appropriately cover the work that needs to
be done . . ." Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff brought
claims for unfair claims settlement practices and breach of
contract. Id. at 2-4.In a Memorandum
Opinion and Order dated December 11, 2015. the Court
dismissed Count I with prejudice, but allowed Plaintiff to
amend her Complaint with respect to Count II. Plaintiff filed
an Amended Complaint on January 11, 2016. ECF No. 23.
Court issued an Order referring the case to Magistrate Judge
Charles B. Day on July 25. 2016. ECF No. 33. A settlement
conference was held on October 7, 2016. and following that
settlement conference, the Court issued an Order dismissing
the case and stating that "[t]his Court has been advised
by the parties that the above action has been settled . . .
The entry of this Order is without prejudice to the right of
a party to move for good cause within 30 days to reopen this
action if settlement is not consummated." ECF No. 35. On
October 21. 2016. Dern filed correspondence with the Court,
requesting to withdraw the settlement. ECF No. 36. Dern
stated: "I'm requesting that the settlement claim I
signed be withdrawn on the grounds of my complaint not being
presented in full and my law[y]er not providing the courts
with all the information to help my case accordingly and
sufficiently." Id. She further stated that her
attorney was "not being forthcoming on the information I
have provided him with." IdPlaintiffs
attorney. Thomas McManus filed a Motion to Withdraw as
Attorney on November 3, 2016. ECF No. 40. Dern moved to
reopen the case on November 14, 2016, based upon the reasons
stated in her October 21. 2016 correspondence. ECF No. 44.
has opposed the Motion to Reopen, moving instead to enforce
the settlement agreement. ECF No. 41. Defendant states that
"[a]fter several hours of negotiation [at the October 7.
2016 settlement conference], the Parties reached an agreed
upon settlement. Prior to concluding the settlement
conference, the Parties memorialized the material terms of
the settlement." Id. at 2. Defendant attaches
the "material term sheet, " which includes twelve
numbered, handwritten contractual provisions, and bears the
signature of both parties.' ECF No. 41-1 at 2-5. Defendant
further states that the parties took several actions in
furtherance of formalizing the settlement, including making
arrangements for Defendant to send the settlement check to
Plaintiffs counsel. See ECF No. 41 at 2. Because the
Court finds that the parties reached a complete agreement
with readily ascertainable terms, and that Plaintiff has not
shown good cause to reopen the case, the Court will enforce
the settlement agreement attached at ECF No. 41-1 at 2-5 and
deny the motion to reopen.
Motion to Reopen and Motion to Enforce Settlement
parties to litigation pending in district courts enter into
agreements to settle their disputes, the courts "have
inherent authority, derived from their equity power, to
enforce settlement agreements."" Lopez v. XTEL
Const. Grp.. LLC, 796 F.Supp.2d 693, 698-99 (D. Md.
2011) (citing Williams v. Prof I Tramp.. Inc.. 388
F.3d 127, 131-32 (4th Cir. 2004)). "If there is a
factual dispute over the existence of an agreement, or over
the agreement's terms, the district court may not enforce
a settlement agreement summarily, ''' Hensley
v. Atcon Labs.. Inc., 277 F.3d 535. 541 (4th Cir. 2002)
(emphasis in original), but instead must conduct an
evidentiary hearing. Williams. 388 F.3d at 132.
Before the Court may enforce the agreement, it must determine
that "the parties reached a complete agreement" and
be able to discern the terms and conditions of that
agreement. Lopez. 796 F.Supp.2d at 699 (citing
Hensley, 277 F.3d at 540-41) (internal citations
omitted). "Notably, the fact that a party may have
second thoughts about the results of a valid settlement
agreement does not justify setting aside an otherwise valid
agreement." Id. (internal citations omitted).
settlement agreement is a contract, the Court applies basic
contract principles when considering a motion to enforce a
settlement agreement. Bradley v. Am. Household Inc..
378 F.3d 373. 380 (4th Cir. 2004). Maryland law provides that
"[a] contract is formed when an unrevoked offer made by
one person is accepted by another." Cty. Comm
'rs for Carroll Cly. v. Forty W. Builders, Inc.. 178
Md.App. 328, 377 (2008). An essential element in the
formation of a contract is the "manifestation of
agreement or mutual assent by the parties to the terms
thereof; in other words, to establish a contract the minds of
the parties must be in agreement as to its terms."
Id. (citing Safeway Stores, Inc. v. Altman.
296 Md. 486. 489 (1983)). The manifestation of mutual assent
requires "(1) intent to be bound, and (2) definiteness
of terms." Cochran v. Norkunas. 398 Md. 1. 14
case. Plaintiff does not dispute that the settlement
agreement exists. In fact, she readily admits that she
attended the hearing and signed the settlement claim. ECF No.
36 at 1. Plaintiff also does not dispute the terms of the
agreement, which are clearly stated in the unambiguous,
albeit informal, agreement attached to the pleadings and
signed by both parties. See ECF No. 41-1. The
agreement provides that Defendant shall pay $150, 000 to the
insured, any additional payees under the insurance policy,
and Plaintiffs counsel. Id., at 2. It further states
that there will be no admission of liability, the case will
be dismissed with prejudice within 10 days after settlement
payment is sent to Ms. Dern"s attorney, and that Ms.
Dern will agree to release Defendants of all claims under the
insurance policy and relating to the fire. Id. Of
particular relevance here, the agreement also states that Ms.
Dern "will represent that she is satisfied with
representation of the counsel that she received in the
matter/" Id. at 4. Thus, the terms of the
agreement are readily ascertainable and definite. See
Lopez v. XTEL Const. Grp, LLC, 796 F.Supp.2d
693, 699 (D. Md. 2011) (granting motion to enforce oral
settlement agreement when terms were readily ascertainable).
The agreement also bears the signature of both parties,
indicating their intent to be bound. See Douglas v. First
Sec. Fed. Sav. Bank, Inc., 101 Md.App. 170, 185 (1994)
(noting that a party's signature indicates an intent to
be bound by an agreement). Having ''second thoughts
about the result of a valid settlement agreement does not
justify setting aside an otherwise valid agreement."
Lopez, 796 F.Supp.2d at 699. For these reasons, the
Court finds the parties reached a complete agreement, and
that the Plaintiff has not demonstrated good cause to
withdraw from the agreement. The Court therefore denies
Plaintiffs Motion to Reopen, and grants Defendant's
Motion to Enforce the Settlement Agreement.
Motion to Withdraw as Attorney
counsel has moved to withdraw as attorney, citing
"irreconcilable differences" with the client,
arising from the "tone and content of the Dern letter of
October 21, 2016." ECF No. 40 at 2. The withdrawal of
appearance by an attorney for an individual is governed by
Local Rule 101.2(a), which provides:
[A]ppearance of counsel may be withdrawn only with leave of
court and if (1) appearance of other counsel has been
entered, or (2) withdrawing counsel files a certificate
stating (a) the name and last known address of the client,
and (b) that a written notice has been mailed to or otherwise
served upon the client at least seven (7) days previously
advising the client of counsel's proposed withdrawal and
notifying the client either to have new ...