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Cosby v. Huntington Ingalls Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

March 27, 2018

J. GARY COSBY, Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on a motion to set aside settlement filed by Plaintiff J. Gary Cosby ("Plaintiff" or "Cosby"), ECF No. 9, a motion to withdraw filed by James R. Theuer ("Plaintiff's counsel" or "Theuer"), ECF No. 10, and a motion to enforce settlement filed by Defendant Huntington Ingalls Incorporated ("Defendant" or "HII"), ECF No. 13. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion to enforce the settlement, GRANTS Mr. Theuer's motion to withdraw, and DENIES Plaintiff's motion to set aside settlement.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In September 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant suit alleging that HII had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") by refusing to permit him to return to work after he became disabled. Compl., ECF No. 1. Prior to suffering a heart attack in January 2015, Cosby had worked at HII as a machinist for twelve years. Id. at ¶ 8. In July 2015, Plaintiff's cardiologist cleared him to return to work, but HII refused to permit Plaintiff to return to work on the ground that HII's worksite presented numerous unavoidable hazards to Plaintiff's health. Id. at ¶¶ 12-16. Plaintiff asserts that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA and that HII has violated his rights under the ADA by refusing to engage in a reasonable accommodation process for employees returning from heart trauma with installed devices. Id. at ¶¶ 19-20.

         On December 21, 2017, with the assistance of retired United States Magistrate Judge F. Bradford Stillman ("Mediator")/ the parties engaged in an all-day mediation. Def.'s Mot. Enf. Settle. Br. 1, ECF No. 18. Among those present with Plaintiff at the mediation were his counsel, Mr. Theuer, and Plaintiff's long-term domestic partner, Ms. Linda Scalia. Id. at 2. During the mediation, Defendant made an offer of settlement, which was communicated to Cosby by the Mediator. Id. After conferencing with Mr. Theuer and Ms. Scalia, Cosby accepted the agreement. Id. The parties then prepared a document that records the terms of the agreement that they titled "Term Sheet". Id. Plaintiff, Mr. Theuer, and a representative for Defendant all signed the term sheet. Id. Later that night, the Mediator sent an email to counsel for both parties congratulating them on the settlement of the matter. Id. at 4.

         The following day, Plaintiff filed the instant motion to set aside settlement. ECF No. 9. He asserts that he was "not supported by his counsel at the mediation held by the parties on December 21, 2017." Id. He further states that "Plaintiff's counsel tried to satisfy the Defendant at the mediation, and Plaintiff was misled by his counsel such that his signature on the settlement term sheet was a mistake." Id. Notably, Plaintiff acknowledges in his motion that the parties in fact reached a settlement on the matter and refers to the document he signed as "the settlement term sheet". Id.

         On that same day, Mr. Theuer filed his motion to withdraw. ECF No. 10. He states that he cannot continue as Plaintiff's counsel first because "the relationship between the Plaintiff and counsel is irretrievably broken, " and second because he is likely to be a material witness in the resolution of the instant motion to set aside settlement. Id. On January 2, 2018, Defendant responded to the motion to withdraw stating it does not oppose such motion. ECF No. 12. Plaintiff has not filed any response to Mr. Theuer7 s motion to withdraw.

         On January 2, 2018, HII responded to Plaintiff's motion to set aside settlement, ECF No. 11, and filed the instant motion to enforce settlement, ECF No. 13. In its brief in support of its motion to enforce settlement, HII first notes that Plaintiff does not dispute that the parties reached a settlement on the matter or that the settlement is memorialized in the term sheet. Id. at 1-2, ECF No. 18. HII also points out that Plaintiff-by asserting that he made a "mistake" because he was "not supported" by his counsel, who purportedly "tried to satisfy the Defendant at mediation"-has merely alleged that he was provided inadequate representation during mediation. Id. at 2 (quoting Pl's Mot. Set Aside Settle. 1). Defendant asserts that an allegation of inadequate representation is insufficient, in the absence of claims that the settlement is "substantially unfair, " for a court to set aside the settlement, and therefore requests that the Court enforce the settlement agreement. Id. at 2-3.

         On January 10, 2018, Plaintiff replied in opposition to Defendant's motion to enforce the settlement. ECF No. 19. In his response, Plaintiff again does not deny Defendant's assertion that the parties reached an agreement to settle the case that was memorialized in the term sheet, though he cryptically states that "the information presented by Defendant at the mediation was incorrect." Id.

         Having been fully briefed, the instant motions are ripe for disposition.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The Court first addresses the parties' motions to enforce or set aside the settlement agreement before turning to address Mr. Theuer's motion to withdraw.

         A. Motion to Enforce Settlement and Motion to Set Aside Settlement

         District courts possess "inherent authority, deriving from their equity power, to enforce settlement agreements." Hensley v. Alcon Labs., Inc., 277 F.3d 535, 540 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing Millner v. Norfolk & W. Ry. Co., 643 F.2d 1005, 1009 (4th Cir. 1981)). Resolution of a motion to enforce a settlement agreement draws on standard contract principles. Id. To enforce a settlement agreement, a district court must (1) find that the parties agreed to settle the case, and (2) be able to determine terms of the settlement. Moore v. Beaufort Cty., N.C. , 936 F.2d 159, 162 (4th Cir. 1991). Where a court finds that the parties entered into a binding settlement agreement, it may summarily enforce the agreement without a plenary hearing. Hensley, 277 F.3d. at 540. Where, on the other hand, there is a material dispute about the ...

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