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Robertson v. District of Columbia

August 4, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Garrett Penn United States District Judge


This comes before the Court on the Motion of the Plaintiff to Enforce Settlement Agreement and for Meaningful Sanctions [#84] ("Pl.s Mot.")*fn1 , which was filed on March 9, 2006. Plaintiff "move[d] this court for an order enforcing the settlement agreement" entered into by the parties on October 11, 2005 "and for [] sanctions against the District . . . for its willful failure to" distribute to plaintiff the "awarded [] sum of $45,100.00" and "$30,000.00 in attorney's fees." Pl.s Mot., at 1-2 (emphasis added).

The District of Columbia's Response to Order to Show Cause[#87]("Def.'s Resp."), filed on March 24, 2006, admitted that it "owes a liquidated debt to" Talisa Robertson ("Talisa") "as [] plaintiff has obtained a judgment and the parties have agreed to a settlement of attorney's fees[.]" Def.'s Resp., at 1. The District nonetheless asserted that it was "prohibited . . . from transferring to a minor child or even to the child's family, proceeds in excess of $10,000" pursuant to "D.C. Official Code § 21-307(c)[,]"*fn2 and that "judgment proceeds [could] only be distributed to a custodian appointed by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia pursuant to the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, D.C. Official Code § 21-301 et. seq[.]" Id. at 1-2 (emphasis added). It was incumbent upon "plaintiff's counsel . . . [to initiate] custodianship proceedings . . . in Superior Court." Id.

On March 27, 2006, the plaintiff responded that the District's "represent[ation] that Talisa [] is a 'minor child[]' . . . . is unequivocally false, and the . . . records [] clearly indicate that the representation is false." Plaintiff's Reply to the District of Columbia's Response to this Court's Order to Show Cause [#88] ("Pl.'s Reply"), at 1 n.1 (emphasis added). In support for this position, plaintiff provided the Division of Security Statement, which reveals Talisa's date of birth to be January 1, 1987. To this point, on June 19, 2006, the District conceded that Talisa has indeed reached the age of majority. Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for a Hearing [#90] ("Def.s Opp."), at ¶ 3.

The Court heard oral argument on plaintiff's Motion on July 14, 2006. Upon consideration of the Motion, the representations the parties made at the oral argument and those made within the above-referenced pleadings, the Court concludes that delay in payment of the settlement is attributable to errors made by the plaintiff and the District. The Court therefore concludes that plaintiff's Motion should be granted in part and denied in part. These conclusions are fully explained below.


The instant case, filed on June 26, 2001, is one of a series of unfortunate cases brought against the District in which children from a D.C. public school were taken to the D.C. Jail. Specifically, on April 9, 2001, April 10, 2001, May 17, 2001, and May 18, 2001, junior high school students were taken on "field trips" and strip-searched "in accordance with [] search procedures faced by inmates[,]" witnessed "correctional officers demonstrate[], with the assistance of an inmate, the use of shackles and difficulties associated with being shackled[,]" were themselves shackled "as a demonstration[,]" and a number of "the students [] leaving the cellblock" witnessed "an inmate expose[] his genitals." Defendant's Pretrial Statement [#19], at 1-3; see also Plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to the District's Motion for Summary Judgment [#34], at 2 ("Plaintiff's daughter[, Talisa,] was shackled and humiliated and taken on the men's side of the Jail where a male inmate . . . partially disrobed and masturbated in the child's presence.").

The Honorable Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson conducted a bench trial and on June 9, 2005 entered judgment in favor of plaintiff Trealetha Robertson ("Trealetha"), as next friend of her daughter Talisa, against the District in the amount of $45,100.00. See generally Judgment for the Plaintiff [#73]. Thereafter, in October of 2005, the parties reached a settlement of, inter alia, attorneys' fees and costs. See generally Praecipe of Dismissal for All Claims [#82]; accord Defendant's Supplement to its Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for a Hearing and Request for Modification of Judgment in Favor of Talisa Robertson, the Former Minor Child [#92], at 1 ("The parties subsequently reached a settlement in which the District agreed to pay the $45,100.00 awarded by the court and in addition would pay attorney's fees in the amount of $30,000."). Nonetheless, as of the undersigned date of this Memorandum Opinion, the settlement agreement has not been satisfied by the District.



It is "a 'well-established principle that [] trial court[s] retain[] jurisdiction to enforce . . . settlement agreements.'" Hammon v. Kelly, 830 F. Supp. 11, 14 (D.D.C. 1993) (quoting Beckett v. Air Line Pilots Ass'n, 301 U.S. App. D.C. 380, 995 F.2d 280, 285 (D.C. Cir. 1993)). Within the District of Columbia, "[s]tate contract law governs the enforcement of settlement agreements." Hood v. D.C., 211 F. Supp. 2d 176, 179-80 (D.D.C. 2002) (citing Makins v. District of Columbia, 349 U.S. App. D.C. 303, 277 F.3d 544, 547 (D.C. Cir. 2002)). That is, for the trial court to honor the settlement agreement, there must be: "(1) an agreement as to all the material terms; and (2) an intention of the parties to be bound." Id. (citing United States v. Mahoney, 345 U.S. App. D.C. 417, 247 F.3d 279, 285 (D.C. Cir. 2001); Kilpatrick v. Paige, 193 F. Supp. 2d 145, 152 (D.D.C. 2002)). "[A] Court may construe an agreement to require a reasonable period of performance," but only "in the absence of an explicit provision relating thereto." Hammon, 830 F. Supp. at 11 (emphasis added). When a trial court dismisses an action pursuant to a settlement agreement, the court retains jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the settlement. Pullins-Graham v. Dist. of Columbia, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27545, at *9 (D.D.C. April 29, 2002) (citation omitted); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(2).


Here, it is the position of plaintiff's counsel that counsel for the District knew that Talisa had reached the age of majority when he filed the District of Columbia's Response to Order to Show Cause on March 24, 2006.*fn3 Because, again, the principal assertion made therein by the District's counsel was that "[t]he party of interest in this matter is . . . a minor child[,]" Def.'s Resp., at 1 (emphasis added), which Talisa was not at the time, this is a very serious charge. See, e.g., United States v. Gaines, 295 F.3d 293, 300 (2d Cir. 2002) (reiterating the rule that "an attorney has a duty not to put false evidence before the court or make misrepresentations to the court"). Plaintiff's counsel argued the point at the oral argument by stating that (1) the March 9, 2006 Motion should have alerted counsel for the District to Talisa's majority; (2) DeBerardinis was one of the attorneys who represented the District during the Robertson v. District of Columbia et al., 01cv01405, bench trial on May 28, 2004 in which Talisa's age was established; and (3) plaintiff's counsel "advised George Valentine, the Deputy Attorney General for the Civil Division [of the District's Office of the Attorney General], that Talisa [] was not a minor several weeks" before filing plaintiff's March 27, 2006 Reply. Pl.'s Reply, at 1. Notwithstanding this argument, for the following three reasons, the facts simply do not bear it out.*fn4

First, nowhere within the March 9, 2006 Motion did plaintiff's counsel alert the District's counsel or the Court -- either explicitly or implicitly -- to the fact that Talisa was over eighteen years old.*fn5 See generally Pl.s Mot. Indeed, to the contrary, he attached to the Motion a release, dated October 12, 2005, which was signed by Talisa's mother, Trealetha.*fn6 However, execution of this release by Trealetha is inconsistent with the law. See D.C. ...

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