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Stewart v. O'Neill

September 3, 2002

LARRY D. STEWART, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PAUL H. O'NEILL, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Now before the Court is plaintiffs' Motion for an Order to Show Cause Why Respondent Paul H. O'Neill Should Not Be Found in Civil Contempt [544], defendant's Opposition thereto, plaintiffs' reply and plaintiffs' supplemental reply. Upon consideration of the pleadings, relevant decisions of prior federal courts and the record of this case, the Court hereby DENIES plaintiffs' Motion for an Order to Show Cause.

I. Background

This history of this case is set forth in the Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order approving the settlement agreement in this case. See Stewart v. Rubin, 948 F. Supp. 1077 (D.D.C. 1996). In brief, plaintiffs brought an action against defendant alleging race discrimination and retaliation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) with regard to a variety of personnel practices. The parties ultimately settled the case, and this Court approved that settlement in 1996. The settlement included many forms of relief, ranging from individual monetary relief to classwide equitable relief.

Plaintiffs now return before this Court seeking contempt against ATF for its alleged failures to comply with the settlement agreement. Plaintiffs allege that defendants have failed to comply with the following terms of the settlement agreement: (1) provide required statistical information; (2) install an agreed upon promotion assessment system *fn1 ; (3) implement the equitable relief due to class members with regard to retirement contributions and retroactive promotions; (4) pay taxes due on the back pay fund established by the settlement agreement; and (5) pay the appellate official and the technical official designated by the settlement agreement. Defendant opposes the plaintiffs' motion and argues that the Court no longer has jurisdiction over the bulk of plaintiffs' claims, and that plaintiffs should be forced to bring a new case to litigate their claims. Defendant apparently concedes that the Court does have jurisdiction over the promotion assessment system and the data collection and analysis related to that system; as to that claim, defendant claims that he is not in violation of the settlement agreement because ATF has made its best efforts to comply with the agreement but have been hampered by technological difficulties, plaintiffs' counsel and by the independent contractors retained to prepare the statistical reports.

II. Analysis

A. Jurisdiction

Parties may not, by consent, definitively invoke or deny the Court's jurisdiction over the settlement agreement. See Arata v. Nu Skin Int'l, Inc., 96 F.3d 1265 (9th Cir. 1996) (upholding district court's exercise of discretion in rejecting jurisdiction despite provision in settlement agreement reserving indefinite jurisdiction over the implementation of the settlement agreement). Despite the parties' apparent agreement that the Court retains the power to enforce the provisions of the settlement agreement that relate to Promotion Assessment System, the Court must make an independent determination of the scope of its jurisdiction.

"The enforceability of the settlement agreement is governed by ordinary principles of contract law." See Order of July 1, 1999, Stewart v. Rubin, Civil No. 90-2841 (RCL) (citing Village of Kaktovik v. Watt, 689 F.2d 222, 230 (D.C. Cir. 1982)). "Where, as here, the language of a contract is clear and unambiguous, the Court will assume that the terms of the contract carry their ordinary meaning." Id. In this case, the settlement agreement explicitly provided that

[t]he Court shall retain jurisdiction over this action for four years from the Effective Date of this Settlement Agreement solely for the purpose of enforcing the Settlement Agreement. Accordingly, this Settlement Agreement shall expire and shall be without force and effect four years from the Effective Date of the Settlement Agreement. See Pl. Mot., Exh. 1 (Settlement Agreement) at 33.

The "effective date" of the settlement agreement was November 21, 1996. During the period of implementation of the settlement, the parties mutually agreed to several extensions of the Court's jurisdiction, so this provision regarding the Court's jurisdiction over the entire settlement agreement did not lapse until July 19, 2001.

A second provision modifies the general jurisdictional provision; the second provision extends the Court's jurisdiction over a limited section of the settlement agreement by providing that

[n]otwithstanding [the general provision governing the Court's jurisdiction] above, the defendant hereby agrees that its obligations under Section IV.C.1 (Data Collection), and Section IV.C.2 (Analysis of Data) shall run for a period of three years from the implementation of the new promotion assessment system specified in Section IV.C.5 (Career Development (Request for Proposals)). If this three year period exceed the period specified . . . above, the Court shall retain jurisdiction for this additional time period solely and for the limited purpose of enforcing the obligations under Section IV.C.1 (Data Collection) and Section IV.C.2 (Analysis of Data). Once this three year period ends, those obligations also shall expire and shall be without force and effect. See id., Exh. 1 (Settlement Agreement) at 33-34 (emphasis in original).

The terms of the settlement agreement are clear; the parties intended that this Court, with the limited exception above, would have jurisdiction to adjudicate disputes stemming from the agreement for a period of four years after the Effective Date of the agreement. It is clear that the terms of the settlement agreement provide only for general jurisdiction over the settlement agreement for a period of four years and any additional period to which both parties agreed. Therefore, by the ...


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