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A.B.S. v. Board of Police Commissioners

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 13, 2019

A.B.S., as surviving daughter of deceased ANTHONY L. SMITH, and a minor, by and through her next friend CHRISTINA WILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF POLICE COMMISSIONERS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JEAN C. HAMILTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff A.B.S.'s Motion to Enforce Settlement, filed April 24, 2019. (ECF No. 228). The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         By way of background, this lawsuit was initiated in 2012, and involves claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Missouri Wrongful Death Statute against former City of St. Louis Police Officer Jason Stockley (“Stockley”), and the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners (the “Board”). Plaintiff A.B.S., the minor daughter of Anthony Lamar Smith (“Decedent”), alleged that Stockley used excessive force when he fatally wounded her father following a police pursuit on December 20, 2011. Following the shooting, a Taurus revolver recovered from the vehicle driven by Decedent was seized as evidence, and samples were taken for DNA testing. Decedent's mother, Annie Smith (“Smith”), was granted permission to intervene in the underlying action in March, 2013.[1]

         The parties mediated the underlying action in June, 2013, and settled all claims. A.B.S. and Smith each took a share of the settlement proceeds.

         On December 18, 2017, A.B.S. filed a Motion to Re-Open Discovery, Motion for Show Cause Hearing, and Motion for Sanctions (the “motion”). A.B.S. asserted there were intentional abuses of the federal discovery process by Defendants and their counsel, with respect to the lab results on the DNA recovered from the revolver. A.B.S. did not ask that the underlying lawsuit and settlement be reopened; instead, she requested sanctions against Defendants and/or their counsel for their abuse of the discovery process.

         The Court entered a scheduling order with respect to the motion on April 9, 2018, ordering referral to alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) from August 1, 2018, to September 14, 2018. The Court further ordered supplemental briefing on the motion between August 24, 2018, and September 24, 2018, and set the matter for a hearing on October 9, 2018.

         On May 8, 2018, Smith's current counsel, Jermaine Wooten of the Legal Solution Group, LLC, entered his appearance for Smith.[2] On October 16, 2018, A.B.S.'s attorney filed a notice of settlement. On December 6, 2018, however, A.B.S. and Defendants (collectively “Movants”) filed a Joint Motion for Approval of Settlement, Entry of Judgment and Sanctions. In their joint motion, Movants asserted Smith did not participate in pre-settlement discovery or mediation in the underlying case, nor was she a party to the Motion to Re-Open Discovery, Motion for Show Cause Hearing and Motion for Sanctions. Movants further maintained that although he received all filings in this matter subsequent to his entry of appearance on May 8, 2018, Mr. Wooten did not participate in the discovery process or mediation regarding the motion. Only after Movants filed the notice of settlement on October 16, 2018, did Mr. Wooten contact the City Counselor's Office, requesting that a portion of the settlement proceeds be allocated to Smith. Movants requested that Smith's claim to the settlement proceeds, to the extent she had any, be extinguished as a sanction for her failure to participate in the discovery and ADR process. Movants further requested that Smith be barred from filing her own claim with respect to the alleged discovery violation.

         During a hearing held on January 8, 2019, the Court ruled that Smith's intervention as of right ended when the underlying wrongful death litigation was settled and terminated. The Court thus held Smith was not automatically entitled to a portion of the settlement proceeds. On January 9, 2019, the Court refused to approve Movants' proposed settlement, as the Court declined to extinguish any potential claim Smith might have on her own behalf with respect to the alleged discovery violation. The Court ordered the parties to submit a status report by February 18, 2019, indicating their progress in determining the manner in which the case should move forward, either through settlement or otherwise.

         As ordered, the parties submitted a Joint Status Report on February 18, 2019. At that time, the parties informed the Court they had been unsuccessful in their efforts to settle the matter, and thus requested that the case be placed back on the Court's regular docket. The parties further requested that Smith be granted twenty-one days to file her own claim regarding the discovery violation.

         On February 27, 2019, the Court entered a revised scheduling order in this matter, granting Smith until March 15, 2019, within which to seek leave to intervene in this matter as a Plaintiff, and/or to file any motion she may have relative to any claim(s) she may assert against any current or former party. The Court further set deadlines for discovery, ADR, and supplemental briefing.

         On March 15, 2019, Mr. Wooten filed a notice of settlement, stating the parties had agreed in principle to settle the case, and were in the process of preparing and finalizing the settlement documents. On April 24, 2019, however, A.B.S. filed the instant Motion to Enforce Settlement, in which she claims that despite agreeing to the express terms of the settlement, Smith refused to execute the Settlement Agreement. A.B.S. asks that the Court approve the proposed settlement, the exact text of which Smith allegedly previously approved.[3]

         DISCUSSION

         Settlement agreements are favored by the courts, and this Court has the inherent power to enforce a settlement agreement entered into by the parties in a pending case. Caleshu v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 737 F.Supp. 1070, 1086 (E.D. Mo. 1990), aff'd, 985 F.2d 564 (8th Cir. 1991). Settlement agreements are governed by basic contract principles, and in order for a settlement agreement to be enforceable, the parties must have reached agreement on the essential terms of the deal. Sheng v. Starkey Labs, Inc., 117 F.3d 1081, 1083 (8th Cir. 1997). “Even if the parties have left some details for counsel to work out through further negotiation, a legal, valid settlement agreement still exists.” McClaskey v. La Plata R-II School Dist., 2006 WL 3803686, at *8 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 7, 2006) (citing Sheng, 117 F.3d at 1083). “The party requesting enforcement of a settlement agreement has the burden of proving its claim for relief by clear, convincing, and satisfactory evidence.” Id. (citing Kenner v. City of Richmond Heights, Mo., 356 F.Supp.2d 1002, 1008 (E.D. Mo. 2005), aff'd, 2006 WL 2620645 (8th Cir. Sep. 14, 2006)).

Once parties have settled a dispute and have agreed to settlement terms, the parties cannot rescind it. In order to determine whether the parties intended to be bound by the settlement prior to the execution of the written documents, a court must consider the course of negotiations, agreement on material terms, whether the parties described the ...

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