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Smith v. Montgomery County

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 11, 2019

BRYAN T. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PAUL W. GRIMM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Bryan Smith brought this employment-discrimination suit in October 2017 against Montgomery County, alleging his supervisors in the Department of Transportation failed to make reasonable accommodations for his cognitive impairments. The County asserts that Mr. Smith, while represented by counsel, accepted the terms of a settlement agreement in spring 2018 but never signed the written agreement. The County here seeks an order enforcing the agreement.

         The record supports the County's assertion that Mr. Smith knowingly and voluntarily assented to the agreement. Accordingly, I am granting the County's motion for enforcement. A separate motion to seal various filings in this case will be granted in part and denied in part.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Mr. Smith is an equipment operator for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation ("DOT"). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 29, ECF No. 11. He alleges that, since at least 1993, he has suffered from a variety of cognitive disorders that impair his ability to think and concentrate and that cause him "to be easily frustrated and overwhelmed"}[1] Id. ¶¶ 4, 7.

         In October 2017, Mr. Smith filed a pro se complaint against the County, [2] alleging that his supervisors in the Department had not granted any of the requests he had made for "reasonable accommodations"" over the previous two years. Compl., ECF NO.1. Specifically, he alleged they had either denied or failed to respond to his various requests for permission to "take breaks to avoid drift," break larger projects into smaller projects, use a recording device to record meetings and work-related conversation,, perform no more than a single task at once, receive additional time to complete tasks, receive written instructions, and enjoy a "modified work day." Id. ¶ 7, 12. His suit sought to hold the County liable for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA") and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act ("MFEPA". Id. ¶¶ 17, 33.

         After failing to participate in a pre-motion telephone conference call this Court had scheduled to discuss the status of the case, Mr. Smith retained counsel and filed an amended complaint, asserting the same ADA and MFEPA claim as before. See ECF Nos. 10, 11. In a March 2018 telephone conference call, I authorized Mr. Smith's attorney, A. Marques Pitre, to file a second amended complaint and I set a briefing schedule for the County's proposed motion to dismiss the case. See ECF No. 16.

         None of those filings ever materialized. What happened, rather, was that on April 12, 2018, the parties notified me they were engaged in talks to settle the case. See ECF No. 17. To allow those talks to proceed, I agreed to give Mr. Smith additional time to further amend his complaint, extending the deadline to May 7, 2018. See ECF No. 18.

         That deadline came and went. The next I heard from the parties was on June 11, 2018, when the County notified me via letter that it was planning to file a motion to enforce a settlement agreement it said the parties had reached. See ECF No. 19. The letter asserted that counsel for both parties had "reached a complete settlement on April 24, 2018," and that Mr. Smith had approved its terms. Id. Mr. Smith, though, had not signed the agreement, and while he had not "explicitly" refused to do so, his attorney, Mr. Pitre, was finding him uncommunicative. See Id. Mr. Pitre soon withdrew from the case, explaining the attorney-client relationship between himself and Mr. Smith was "irretrievably broken." ECF No. 20.

         The County on July 2, 2018, filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement or, alternatively, to dismiss the Amended Complaint.[3] ECF No. 25. In support of its request to enforce the agreement, the County enclosed copies of emails the parties' counsel had exchanged between April 2018 and June 2018. See Settlement Negotiation Emails, ECF No. 25-4; Signature Emails, ECF No. 25-12.

         The emails show that in April 2018, the attorneys for both parties were working to hash out a deal that would include both a monetary offer as well as a promise to make certain accommodations in Mr. Smith's workplace. See Settlement Negotiation Emails. On April 23, 2018, Associate County Attorney Justin Nunley wrote to Mr. Pitre:

[T]he County is willing to offer $5000 as full settlement of all of Mr. Smith's claims (including attorneys' fees) for disability discrimination under state and/or federal law up to the present date. The County takes no position as to what percentage of the $5000 will be applied to attorneys' fees and what percentage Mr. Smith will retain. That decision is entirely between you and Mr. Smith.
Please convey this monetary offer to Mr. Smith. I also look forward to your update regarding Mr. Smith's training requests so that 1 can keep working on those. 1 will continue to work with you, DOT, OHR, and Mr. Smith to get those requests ironed out. 1 view the accommodations requests as separate from the monetary component of any settlement....

Id. at 8-9.

         Mr. Pitre wrote back the next morning (April 24, 2018): "Thank you for the monetary offer below[.] I have communicated this offer to my client, and he will accept the terms." Id. at 7. The email proceeded to clarify that Mr. Smith wished to do more at work than merely "drive the trucks," and that he would like additional training to enable him to operate other types of equipment See Id. "1 believe that would cover all of our Reasonable Accommodation concerns, so when you're ready to present a draft settlement agreement covering all that we have discussed, I would be happy to review and present to my client for signature," Mr. Pitre wrote. Id. at 8.

         Mr. Nunley responded on April 27, 2018, saying DOT had confirmed it could provide the requested training. See Id. at 5. An April 30, 2018 email from Mr. Pitre replied: "That is wonderful news! Looks like we'll have this wrapped up shortly." Id. at 4.

         Mr. Nunley emailed a "draft accommodations letter" to Mr. Pitre the next day, asking him to "[p]lease review [it] to make sure it accurately reflects our discussions, and let me know if you approve." Id. at 1; see Accommodations Letter, ECF No. 25-5. He soon afterward drafted a release, which he sent to Mr. Pitre for approval on May 9, 2018. See Release Emails 2, ECF No. 25-6. Mr. Pitre returned it less than an hour later with "some minor changes." Id. at 1. Mr. Nunley, after accepting all of the edits and declaring the release "finalized," id, sent a "final" version of both the release and accommodations letter to Mr. Pitre, asking him to provide them to Mr. Smith for his signature and notarization, ECF No. 25-8.

         Weeks passed. On May 30, 2018, Mr. Nunley pressed Mr. Pitre to "please let me know when you expect Mr. Smith will sign the Release so that I can get the check out." Signature Emails 6. "My understanding"" Mr. Nunley wrote later that day in a follow-up email, "is that we had reached an agreement and were just waiting on Mr. Smith's signature for the Release." Id. at 4. Mr. Pitre replied: "We indeed reached an agreement, however, I have been unable to get my client to sign the Release." Id. Two days later, on June 1, 2018, Mr. Pitre wrote: "I got a call from Mr. Smith saying that he would send the document today. If not, I'll be withdrawing from the case in the morning." Id. at 2. After further correspondence between the two attorneys, Mr. Pitre confirmed on June 7, 2018: "We will be withdrawing from Mr. Smith's case within the next couple of days. ... I'm really ...


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