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Scott v. Team Industrial Services, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

September 27, 2019

YOLANDA SCOTT Plaintiff,
v.
TEAM INDUSTRIAL SERVICES., INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          NANETTE K. LAUGHREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Team Industrial Services, Inc. moves to enforce the settlement agreement as negotiated between Defendant and Plaintiff Yolanda Scott’s attorney relating to Ms. Scott’s race discrimination claim under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), R.S.Mo. §213.010 et seq. Doc. 13. Defendant Team Industrial Services, Inc.’s motion to enforce the settlement agreement is granted for the following reasons.

         I. Background

         On December 26, 2017, while employed by Team Industrial Services, Plaintiff was suspended for twenty-one days without pay pending an investigation into an allegation that she had acted out against another employee. Doc. 15, at 5. Plaintiff states that the investigation did not prove these allegations had occurred and that she was allowed to return to her position, but without pay for the days she was suspended. Doc. 1-1 (Complaint), ¶ 15. Plaintiff asserts that an alleged altercation involving a white employee working for Defendant did not result in a suspension or missed pay. She has argued that this establishes the basis for her race discrimination claim under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), R.S.Mo. §213.010 et seq.

         Plaintiff was represented by an attorney who handled settlement negotiations on her behalf. Doc. 10, ¶ 3. Defendant asserts that after negotiations and phone conversations with Plaintiff’s counsel, an agreement to settle all matters was reached on July 10, 2019. Doc. 13, ¶1. After these oral discussions, counsels for the parties confirmed the existence of a settlement agreement via email. Doc. 13-1. This written exchange confirmed that there was an agreement to resolve the matter for a given amount[1] and that the agreement was “[s]ubject to an agreed upon Settlement and Release Agreement with provisions standard of a Employment Settlement including confidentiality.” Id. Defendant states that on July 12, 2019 they were notified by Plaintiff’s attorney that Plaintiff now disagreed with the settlement reached, Doc. 13, ¶ 3, and Plaintiff’s attorney subsequently filed a motion to withdraw as counsel, Doc. 10. Defendant now brings this motion to enforce the settlement agreement. Doc. 13. Plaintiff argues that the settlement agreement should not be enforced because she was not properly represented by her lawyer. Doc. 15, at 1.

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         A district court “has inherent power to enforce a settlement agreement as a matter of law when the terms are unambiguous . . . .” Harper Enterprises, Inc. v. Aprilia World Serv. USA, Inc., 270 Fed.App’x 458, 460 (8th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). Basic principles of contract formation govern the existence and enforcement of settlement agreements. Chaganti & Assoc., P.C. v. Nowotny, 470 F.3d 1215, 1221 (8th Cir. 2006). A party requesting specific performance of a settlement agreement has the burden of proving the agreement “by clear, convincing, and satisfactory evidence.” Precision Investments, LLC v. Cornerstone Propane, LP, 220 S.W.3d 301, 303 (Mo. 2007) (en banc) (citation omitted).

         B. Evidentiary Hearing

         Generally, an evidentiary hearing should be held where there is “a substantial factual dispute over the existence or terms of a settlement.” Chaganti, 470 F.3d at 1222–23 (citation omitted). But no hearing is required where there are no “essential issues of fact that can only be properly resolved by such a hearing” and where “the written record suffices to decide the dispositive issues.” Bath Junkie Branson, LLC v. Bath Junkie, Inc., 528 F.3d 556, 561 (8th Cir. 2008).

         Plaintiff has not contested the legitimacy of the email submitted by Defendant which confirms the settlement agreement; nor has she alleged that any of the terms of the agreement are ambiguous or contested. While she complains that her lawyer’s performance was deficient, she does not state that her attorney lacked authority to enter the settlement agreement dated July 10, 2019, nor does she allege that she never agreed to the terms of the settlement.

         As discussed more fully below, the only issue to be resolved here is whether an enforceable agreement was entered between the parties. Because there is no dispute about the facts concerning the formation of the agreement and “the written record suffices to decide the dispositive issues . . ., ” an evidentiary hearing is not necessary to resolve this motion.

         C. Existence of a Contract

          For a settlement agreement to be enforceable, the parties must have agreed to the material terms of the deal. Sheng v. Starkey Labs., Inc., 117 F.3d 1081, 1083 (8th Cir. 1997). Under Missouri law, “[t]he essential elements of an enforceable contract are parties competent to contract, a proper subject matter, legal consideration, mutuality of agreement, and mutuality of obligation.” Bath Junkie Branson, L.L.C. v. Bath Junkie, Inc., 528 F.3d 556, 561 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting L.B. v. ...


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