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Hood v. Dist. of Columbia

July 25, 2002

ARTHUR F. HOOD ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document Nos. 154, 155

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO ENFORCE THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This case requires the court to examine whether the parties had a sufficient meeting of the minds to reach a settlement on the eve of trial. Arthur Hood, Jessie Smith, and Susie Thomas (collectively, "the plaintiffs") bring this action under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985(3), 1986, and 1988, and for intentional infliction of emotional distress. As three former D.C. Department of Corrections employees, the plaintiffs claim that the defendants wrongfully terminated them without prior notice or the opportunity to challenge the dismissals in retaliation for speaking to the media about the city's halfway-house system.

The case was set for trial in October 2001. Five days before trial, the parties reached a tentative agreement and submitted a joint motion to dismiss the action without prejudice and to vacate the trial date. This court granted the motion. During the next few months, the parties' views about the specific terms of the putative settlement agreement began to diverge. The plaintiffs have now filed a motion to enforce a settlement agreement that includes both a financial payment to the plaintiffs and their re-enrollment into the retirement system. *fn1 After reviewing the submissions of both parties, the court concludes that while the parties agreed to the monetary portion of the settlement, they never reached an accord regarding another material part of the agreement - the plaintiffs' re-enrollment into the retirement system. Accordingly, the court denies the plaintiffs' motion to enforce the settlement agreement.

II. BACKGROUND

In March and December of 1993, the plaintiffs appeared on a local television station and Sixty Minutes to discuss conditions in the D.C. halfway-house system. Pls.' Mot. to Enforce the Settlement Agreement ("Pls.' Mot.") at 3. Mr. Hood claims that the defendants fired him in November 1993 in retaliation for these appearances. Id. Mr. Smith and Ms. Thomas assert that the defendants terminated them in April 1994 for the same reason. Id. The plaintiffs claim that they did not receive timely notice of their terminations. Id.

Before the October 2001 trial date, the parties appeared to reach a settlement agreement. Id. Negotiations had lasted nearly a year, first for three sessions under the supervision of Magistrate Judge Kay and then for five sessions under the supervision of Magistrate Judge Facciola. *fn2 Id.; Defs.' Partial Opp'n to Pls.' Mot. ("Defs.' Opp'n") at 2. The parties do not dispute that under the terms of the tentative settlement agreement, the plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their First Amendment claims in exchange for $625,000. Pls.' Mot. at 4; Defs.' Opp'n at 2. On October 17, 2001, the court granted a joint motion to dismiss the complaint without prejudice and to vacate the trial date. Order dated Oct. 17, 2001.

Over the next four months, the plaintiffs claim that the parties engaged in a series of telephone calls and discussions concerning Mr. Hood's and Mr. Smith's re-enrollment into the retirement system. Pls.' Mot. at 8. The plaintiffs insist that re-enrollment was "the second part of the negotiation." Id. at 4. The plaintiffs contend that Deputy Corporation Counsel Eugene Adams assured them that "no problems were anticipated," "re-enrollment in the system had been permitted in other cases," and "he would advise plaintiffs' counsel when such process had been completed." Pls.' Reply to Defs.' Opp'n ("Pls.' Reply") Ex. A ("Hood Decl.") at ¶ 4. Between December 2001 and January 2002, Mr. Adams informed the plaintiffs that "the government had issues with allowing the plaintiffs to participate in a retirement program during a time in which they were not working." Id. at 5.

On or about January 15, 2002, the defendants allegedly sent the plaintiffs a retirement deposit application form. Pls.' Mot. at 8. The plaintiffs refused to complete the application since they claim that the defendants had not completed the first step in the process of ordering the plaintiffs' personnel files. Id. at 6. On February 19, 2002, the plaintiffs filed their motion to enforce a settlement agreement that includes both a money component and their re-enrollment. Id. at 1. They believe they have an "unconditional right" to retirement benefits under D.C. Code § 1-626.10. Pls.' Reply at 1.

The defendants filed a motion in partial opposition to the plaintiffs' motion to enforce the settlement agreement. The defendants agree to the extent that the plaintiffs seek to reinstate the proceedings as to Mr. Hood and Mr. Smith, but contend that there was never an enforceable settlement agreement regarding re-enrollment. Id. at 1, 4. The defendants argue that the settlement was "exclusively financial" and that "it was always intended that the $625K promised to the plaintiffs was the full extent of the agreement reached." Defs.' Opp'n at 3, Ex. B ("Adams Decl.") at ¶ 14. The defendants maintain that "while the issue of allowing Plaintiffs Hood and Smith to re-enroll . . . had been discussed during early mediation sessions, that issue was not discussed after April 17, 2001." Id. Ex. A ("Grimaldi Decl.") at ¶¶ 5-6. The defendants therefore oppose the plaintiffs' motion to enforce an agreement that they contend does not exist. Id. at 5.

The defendants also argue that the court should enforce a settlement agreement as to Ms. Thomas. Id. at 5. Because Ms. Thomas does not qualify for retirement benefits since she has not been employed with the city for a sufficient amount of time, the defendants submit that "her interest in the settlement . . . could only be financial." Id. The plaintiffs disagree, arguing that the "acceptance of the total settlement award was a joint and indivisible decision between the three plaintiffs." Pls.' Reply at 3. The plaintiffs therefore oppose enforcing the settlement ...


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