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Perry v. Tinkham

United States District Court, D. Maine

May 24, 2018

ALAN J. PERRY, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
PETER TINKHAM, et al., Defendants PETER TINKHAM, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
LAURA PERRY, et al., Defendants

          DECISION AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO ENFORCE SETTLEMENT AND FOR SANCTIONS, AND DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDICIAL AID IN SETTLEMENT

          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

         After the Court denied the parties' motions for sanctions (Decision and Order, ECF No. 238), which motions focused on the terms by which the parties agreed to settle this case, Defendants filed a Motion for Judicial Aid in Settlement (ECF No. 239), [1] and Plaintiffs' filed a Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement and for Sanctions. (ECF No. 241.) The parties' motions again focus on the status of and terms of the parties' settlement.[2]

         After consideration of the parties' filings and following a review of the record, the Court grants Plaintiffs' motion to enforce the settlement agreement, grants in part Plaintiff's motion for sanctions, and denies Defendants' motion for judicial aid in settlement.[3]

         Discussion

         1. Plaintiffs' Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement

         Central to the parties' motions for sanctions (ECF Nos. 202, 203) was whether the parties' reached a binding agreement to resolve this matter. Because the parties' motions revealed certain factual disputes as to whether the parties reached a binding settlement, as set forth in the Decision and Order on the motions for sanctions (Decision and Order, ECF No. 238), the Court scheduled an evidentiary hearing on the motions.[4] In its order scheduling the hearing, the Court noted that the evidentiary hearing would “include the issue of whether the parties reached a binding settlement agreement” and that “the parties should be prepared to address all issues raised by the motions for sanctions, including whether, if the Court were to determine that the parties reached a binding settlement, the Court should enforce the settlement agreement.” (Procedural Order, ECF No. 207.)

         The Court conducted the evidentiary hearing on October 27, 2017.[5] Following the hearing, the Court made certain factual findings and concluded that “on or about July 26, 2017, the parties reached a valid, binding agreement to resolve their claims against each other and conclude this matter.” (Decision and Order at 11.) The Court further found:

The material terms of the parties' agreement consist of the following: a payment of $80, 000 to Defendants and a payment of $80, 000 to Plaintiffs; Plaintiff Laura Perry would own the cottage in Weld, Maine, which cottage is the subject of the litigation; the receipt by Defendants of information regarding the circumstances of the death of Auburn Perry, Sr., Defendant Juliet Alexander's father; the return to Defendants of certain items given by Samantha Tinkham to Auburn Perry, Sr., her grandfather; mutual release of all claims; and the Defendants' release of any claims they might have against the Estate of Auburn Perry Sr., and the Estate of Laura Perry upon her passing.

(Id. at 11-12.)

         The Court, however, did not order the enforcement of the agreement because Plaintiffs' had not requested enforcement. Instead, Plaintiffs requested the dismissal of Defendant Tinkham's claim and the entry of a default on Plaintiffs' claims, which requests the Court denied. Plaintiffs now seek enforcement of the settlement agreement.

         A party may seek to enforce a settlement agreement by motion before the underlying matter is dismissed. Roman-Oliveras v. Puerto Rico Elec. Power Auth., 797 F.3d 83, 86 (1st Cir. 2015) (federal district court with subject matter jurisdiction over a dispute may enforce settlement prior to dismissal of the suit); Malave v. Carney Hosp., 170 F.3d 217, 220 (1st Cir. 1999) (“A party to a settlement agreement may seek to enforce the agreement's terms when the other party reneges.”). “The trial court may summarily enforce the agreement, provided there is no genuinely disputed question of material fact regarding the existence or terms of that agreement.” Fidelity and Guar. Ins. Co. v. Star Equip. Corp., 541 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2008). In the event of a disputed material fact, the court must conduct an evidentiary hearing. Id.

         In this case, while the parties' earlier filings revealed material facts in dispute that required an evidentiary hearing, no material facts remain in dispute following the Court's findings after the evidentiary hearing. The Court incorporates herein the findings set forth in the Decision and Order (ECF No. 238). Based on the findings and the current record, the Court can and will order the enforcement of the settlement without further hearing.

         2. Defendants' Motion for Judicial Aid in Settlement

         Through their Motion for Judicial Aid in Settlement (ECF No. 239), Defendants ask the Court to enforce a settlement on terms other than as found by the Court after the evidentiary hearing. Because the relief Defendants seek is unsupported by the record, Defendants' motion fails.

         3. Plaintiffs' Motion for Sanctions

         Plaintiffs request the Court sanction Defendants by awarding Plaintiffs the fees Plaintiffs incurred after the parties agreed to settle the matter. More specifically, Plaintiffs ask the Court to award all fees incurred “since the end of July.” (Motion at 6.) In support of the motion, Plaintiffs maintain that Defendants not only failed to honor the parties' agreement to settle, but also engaged in egregious misconduct throughout the course of the litigation. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiffs request that the award be paid out of the funds that would be paid to Defendants under the settlement agreement, and that the award include fees and costs that may yet be incurred given Defendants' history of filing unproductive motions and appeals. (Id. at 8 - 9.)

         The Court has both contempt power and inherent power to sanction a party for unacceptable conduct in the course of litigation. “A district court's authority to issue a contempt order derives from its inherent power to ‘sanction ... litigation abuses which threaten to impugn the district court's integrity or disrupt its efficient management of [case] proceedings.'” AngioDynamics, Inc. v. Biolitec AG, 780 F.3d 420, 426 (1st Cir. 2015) (alterations in original) (quoting United States v. Kouri-Perez, 187 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 1999)). Furthermore, the Court may issue sanctions pursuant to its inherent authority to vindicate judicial authority, without resorting to the exercise of its contempt powers. In re Charbono, 790 F.3d 80, 85 (1st Cir. 2015).

         A court may award sanctions upon finding that a party has “acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons.” Chambers v. Nesco, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 45-46 (1991) (quoting Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Soc., 421 U.S. 240, 258- 59 (1975)). Because of its potency, “a court's inherent power to shift attorneys' fees ‘should be used sparingly and reserved for egregious circumstances.'” Whitney Bros. Co. v. Sprafkin, 60 F.3d 8, 13 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Jones v. Winnepesaukee Realty, 990 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993)). A district court exercising this power “must describe the bad faith conduct with ‘sufficient specificity, ' ...


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