United States District Court, D. Maryland
LIPTON HOLLANDER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
tort suit, plaintiff Steven Turner, who is self-represented,
filed suit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against
defendant Archer Western Contractors, LLC (“Archer
Western”), a private construction contractor. ECF 2
(“Complaint”); see also ECF 64-1 at 15
(claim denial from City of Baltimore). Turner is an employee
of Baltimore City's Department of General Services, Fleet
Management Division. ECF 64-1 at 13. At the relevant time,
Archer Western was performing work for the City of Baltimore.
Defendant timely removed the case to this Court on August 7,
2017, under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, based on diversity
jurisdiction. ECF 1; see also ECF 25.
suit, Turner alleged that Archer Western sprayed
“hazardous chemicals” onto Turner's two motor
vehicles, which were “on the parking lot at work,
” damaging their paint. Turner also claims that the
hazardous chemicals got on his clothes, hands, skin, and face
and entered his body. In addition, Turner alleges that his
exposure to the chemicals has caused him to sustain various
medical ailments. Id. at 1. Turner sought $20
million in damages. Id.
Complaint did not contain specific counts. But, I interpreted
it as alleging two claims of negligence. Id. The
first was for the medical problems that plaintiff allegedly
sustained. The second was for the property damage to
plaintiff's two vehicles. As discussed in more detail,
infra, I granted defendant's motion for summary
judgment as to the medical claim but denied it as to the
property claim. See ECF 74; ECF 75.
pending is Archer Western's “Motion To Enforce
Settlement Agreement” (ECF 79), supported by a
memorandum (ECF 79-1) (collectively, the
“Motion”) and multiple exhibits. ECF 79-2 to ECF
79-7. In response, Turner filed correspondence reiterating
his desire to be compensated for injuries to his health. ECF
80 at 1. The correspondence was supported by a letter from
his physician. Id. at 2.
to an Order of April 16, 2019 (ECF 81), the Court held a
hearing on the Motion on June 7, 2019, at which testimonial
and documentary evidence were presented. See ECF 83;
ECF 84. Aman S. Aulakh, Esq., an associate
attorney at the Maryland law office of Mintzer Sarowitz Zeris
Ledva & Meyers, LLP (“Mintzer” or the
“Firm”), testified as a witness for Archer
Western. Turner testified on his own behalf. The Court also
heard oral argument from the parties.
reasons that follow, I shall grant the Motion.
Order of November 14, 2017 (ECF 35), I referred the case to
Magistrate Judge A. David Copperthite for a settlement
conference. On January 5, 2018, Judge Copperthite appointed
Gretchen Slater as pro bono counsel for plaintiff
for the limited purpose of settlement discussions. ECF 48.
And, on January 23, 2018, he scheduled a settlement
conference for April of 2018. ECF 52; ECF 54.
March 15, 2018, Archer Western filed a status report (ECF
53), stating that the parties had reached a settlement.
Accordingly, the next day, Judge Copperthite canceled the
settlement conference that had been scheduled for April 17,
2018. ECF 54. However, on March 23, 2018, Archer Western
filed another status report (ECF 55), claiming that Turner
withdrew his acceptance of Archer Western's settlement
offer. Turner filed correspondence with the Court on March
26, 2018, expressing his desire to represent himself. ECF 57.
He also filed correspondence on April 6, 2018. ECF 59.
on April 6, 2018, Archer Western filed its first motion to
enforce the settlement agreement between the parties (ECF
60), supported by a memorandum (ECF 60-1) and several
exhibits. ECF 60-2 to ECF 60-7. In this motion, Archer
Western claimed that the parties had entered a binding
settlement. ECF 60-1 at 4. On April 12, 2019, because the
settlement conference had been canceled, appointed counsel
for plaintiff filed a “Motion To Withdraw As
Counsel.” ECF 61. It was supported by several exhibits.
ECF 61-2 to ECF 61-6.
Order of May 17, 2018 (ECF 71), Judge Copperthite granted
appointed counsel's motion to withdraw. But, he denied
Archer Western's first motion to enforce settlement,
because Turner had withdrawn “his acceptance of
settlement before meeting all of the conditions required for
a valid settlement.” Id. In particular, it
appears that settlement documents were never executed by
on April 16, 2018, Archer Western moved for summary judgment
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. ECF 62. Its motion was supported by a
memorandum of law (ECF 62-1) and over 300 pages of exhibits.
ECF 62-2 to ECF 62-9. Plaintiff opposed the summary judgment
motion (ECF 64) and filed two supplements. ECF 65; ECF 66.
Defendant replied. ECF 67. Thereafter, plaintiff filed four
supplements. ECF 68; ECF 69; ECF 70; ECF 73.
Memorandum (ECF 74) and Order of January 7, 2019 (ECF 75), I
granted in part and denied in part Archer Western's
summary judgment motion. Specifically, I granted summary
judgment as to Turner's claim that Archer Western's
spraying of “hazardous chemicals” caused Turner
to sustain medical problems. In this regard, I note that
Turner did not have an expert witness as to proximate cause
and was, in my view, unable to establish a causal
relationship between the alleged exposure and his medical
problems. ECF 74 at 12. But, I denied summary judgment as to
Turner's claim that defendant had damaged his vehicles.
As a result, Turner's only remaining claim is one for
property damage. According to Turner, he received a copy of
the Memorandum and Order in the mail by January 11, 2019.
January 28, 2019, Turner filed correspondence with the Court,
in which he claims that he was “trick[ed]” by
Archer Western into signing a settlement agreement. ECF 77.
Further, he asserts that Archer Western “destroyed
[his] health.” Id. On January 30, 2019, Archer
Western filed a status report (ECF 78), to which it attached
a copy of an undated stipulation of dismissal that was signed
by Turner and counsel for Archer Western. ECF 78-1. Moreover,
in the status report, counsel claimed that Turner signed and
executed the settlement documents, and he then mailed them to
counsel. But, Turner subsequently left a voicemail message
for counsel, stating that he was no longer interested in the
settlement. ECF 78.
Motion hearing, Aman Aulakh, Esq. testified that he has been
a member of the Maryland bar since 2013. Aulakh also
testified that, at all times relevant to this case, there
were only two men in Mintzer's Maryland office: Aulakh
and George Dean Bogris, Esq., who serves as lead counsel for
Archer Western in this case.
recalled that on January 11, 2019, he contacted plaintiff by
telephone to discuss the settlement of Turner's property
claim in regard to damage to Turner's two vehicles.
During the call, Aulakh told Turner that the Court dismissed
Turner's health claim, but not his property claim.
Aulakh, on behalf of defendant, offered to settle
Turner's property claim for $8, 968.42. This figure
represents the precise claim asserted by Turner for damage to
his vehicles. That sum corresponds to the estimate obtained
by Turner from Maaco Collision Repair & Auto Painting to
repaint his vehicles. See ECF 2-1 at 1-2.
explained that he did not provide legal advice to Turner, nor
did Turner seek legal advice from Aulakh. Moreover, they did
not discuss Turner's right to appeal the disposition of
the summary judgment motion as to Turner's medical claim.
However, Aulakh testified that Turner gave no indication that
he did not understand the Court's ruling on the summary
judgment motion. To the contrary, Turner said that he
disagreed with the ruling.
Aulakh testified that Turner accepted the settlement offer.
In response, Aulakh told Turner that Archer Western would not
pay Turner until Turner signed and returned a general release
and a stipulation of dismissal. Accordingly, Aulakh mailed
Turner the settlement documents to execute in order to
finalize the parties' settlement agreement. See
January 24, 2019, Aulakh called Turner on the telephone and
asked Turner whether he had signed the settlement documents.
Turner did not raise any concerns about the settlement
documents. Rather, Turner indicated that he had signed and
the envelope in which Turner mailed the documents is
postmarked January 23, 2019, which is also the date Turner
executed the general release. See ECF 79-6 at 4-5.
And, Turner also took the time to have the release notarized.
Id. at 4.
the morning of January 25, 2019, Aulakh received a voice
message from Turner, stating that he was no longer interested
in the settlement and directing Archer Western not to take
any actions regarding the settlement documents. Id.
That afternoon, Aulakh received the settlement agreement
documents in the mail. They were fully signed, executed, and
testified that he is in severe pain, has rashes on his body,
and suffers with blurry vision. He also testified that he
completed high school and, at the relevant time, was not
taking any medications that affected his comprehension.
acknowledged in his testimony that he had agreed to settle
the suit during a phone call with an attorney for Archer
Western. He also acknowledged that he signed the settlement
documents and mailed them back to counsel for Archer Western.
And, he acknowledged that, after he mailed the settlement
documents, he left a voice message for counsel for Archer
Western, seeking to withdraw from the settlement.
Turner maintained that he never spoke either with Aulakh or
Bogris. Rather, he insisted that he spoke with another
attorney for Archer Western, whom he met at a hearing with
Archer Western in State court. Turner testified that in January
2019, he knew he was speaking to that same attorney because
he recognized the attorney's voice. Although Turner
stated that he spoke with this attorney on at least two
occasions, he did not know the attorney's name. But, he