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Sutton v. Federal Debt Assistance Association, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 16, 2018

RUSSELL SUTTON, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL DEBT ASSISTANCE ASSOCIATION, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          J. Mark Coulson, United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiffs Russell Sutton, Elizabeth Carollo, and Michael Johnson originally brought suit against Defendants Federal Debt Assistance Association, LLC (“FDAA”), Vincent Piccione, David Piccione, and Robert Pantoulis, (collectively, “Defendants”), for breach of contract and alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (“MWPCL”). This case was referred to me for all proceedings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636 and Local Rules 301 and 302 by Judge Richard D. Bennett. (ECF No. 28). Plaintiff Sutton and Defendant FDAA are the only parties that have filed their respective consents to my jurisdiction. (ECF Nos. 32 & 50).[1] However, Defendants Vincent Piccione, David Piccione, and Robert Pantoulis have not filed their consents, and are now subject to a pending dispositive motion. (ECF No. 62). Accordingly, Judge Bennett has asked that I address the disposition of that Motion in the form of a Report and Recommendation.

         Currently pending before this Court is Plaintiff Sutton's Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement. (ECF No. 62). Defendants have not filed any response, and the deadline has now passed. See Loc. R. 105.2(a) (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons that follow, I respectfully recommend that the Court GRANT Plaintiff's Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 16, 2018, a settlement conference was held in this case before Judge Beth P. Gesner. Plaintiff Sutton and Defendant David Piccione, on behalf of himself and FDAA, attended the conference. Although Defendants Vincent Piccione and Robert Pantoulis did not personally attend, Nathanial K. Risch, Esq. attended on their behalf.[2] Plaintiff and Defendants reached and ultimately signed a settlement agreement drafted by Judge Gesner at the conference. Part of the settlement agreement required Defendants to pay the settlement amount of $10, 000 into their counsel's IOLTA account within ten days of the settlement conference. Defendants have, thus far, failed to provide the settlement amount to their counsel for placement in the IOLTA account. On February 20, 2018, the Court entered an Order scheduling a second settlement conference and requiring that Defendants attend. (ECF No. 51). The second settlement conference was held on February 26, 2018. At the conference, Defendants claimed that they did not have the requisite funds to pay the settlement amount to which the parties had agreed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         When 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.” Williams v. Prof'l Transp., Inc., 388 F.3d 127, 131-32 (4th Cir. 2004). A party to a settlement agreement may seek to enforce the agreed-upon terms when the opposing party reneges. Dimeglio v. Haines, Civ. No. Y-93-2656, 1999 WL 1489197, at *2 (D. Md. Dec. 28, 1999). In order to enforce an agreement, a court “(1) must find that the parties reached a complete agreement and (2) must be able to determine its terms and conditions.” Lopez v. XTEL Const. Group, LLC, 796 F.Supp.2d 693, 699 (D. Md. 2011) (quoting King v. Sallie Mae, Inc., No. PJM-08-2934, 2009 WL 2596643, at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 20, 2009)). “If there is a factual dispute over the existence of an agreement, over the authority of attorneys to enter into the agreement, or over the agreement's terms, the district court may not enforce a settlement agreement summarily.” Hensley v. Alcon Labs., Inc., 277 F.3d 535, 541-42 (4th Cir. 2002).

         Courts apply 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). Perhaps the most 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.” Dern v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., No. GJH-15-1737, 2017 WL 2257333, at *2 (D. Md. May 22, 2017) (internal citations omitted). Case law in this Court demonstrates that settlement agreements are most often enforced when the parties have physically signed an agreement. See Simmons v. Koons Toyota Westminster, No. Civ. JFM-03- 02914, 2005 WL 638062 (D. Md. Mar. 14, 2005); King v. Sallie Mae, Inc., No. PJM-08-2934, 2009 WL 2596643 (D. Md. Aug. 20, 2009). “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.” Lopez v. XTEL Const. Group, LLC, 796 F.Supp.2d 693, 699 (D. Md. 2011) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         Here, there is no factual dispute over the existence of a settlement agreement. See Id. (citing Hensley, 277 F.3d at 541.). Plaintiff provided a copy of the settlement agreement, drafted by Judge Gesner and signed by the parties, as an attachment to his Motion. (ECF No. 63). Defendants filed no response and the deadline for such response has now passed. Thus, I conclude that a complete agreement was reached by the parties at the settlement conference before Judge Gesner. Furthermore, the terms of the parties' settlement agreement are readily ascertainable. The handwritten, signed agreement clearly states the terms of settlement:

• Settlement is contingent upon the dismissal of the action in its entirety (including claims by Plaintiffs Carollo and Johnson, which the Court has now dismissed);
• Defendants are to make a payment in the sum of $10, 000, including attorneys' fees and costs, to Plaintiff Sutton;
• The $10, 000 sum is to be placed in escrow through Defense Counsel within 10 days of the date of the agreement;
• Within ten days of the Court's anticipated approval of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as to Plaintiffs Carollo and Johnson, the parties will file a Motion to Approve the Settlement Agreement.

(ECF No. 63). Plaintiff has demonstrated that the parties reached a complete settlement agreement with determinable terms and conditions and Defendants have made no attempt to contradict these showings or otherwise ...


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