United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Athens Division
D. LAND, CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
Brian Keith Thornton brought this employment discrimination
action against his former employer, Defendant Unified
Government of Athens-Clarke County, Georgia
(“ACC”), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ACC filed a
counterclaim to enforce the settlement ACC reached with
Thornton's attorney before Thornton fired him. Thornton
did not answer or otherwise respond to the counterclaim, and
the Clerk entered a default as to Thornton on November 17,
2017. ACC's motion for default judgment followed.
Thornton did not respond. As discussed below, the motion (ECF
No. 12) is granted.
default, Thornton admitted the well-pleaded allegations of
fact in ACC's counterclaim. See, e.g., Eagle Hosp.
Physicians, LLC v. SRG Consulting, Inc., 561 F.3d 1298,
1307 (11th Cir. 2009) (“A ‘defendant, by his
default, admits the plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations
of fact . . . .'” (quoting Nishimatsu Constr.
Co. v. Houston Nat'l Bank, 515 F.2d 1200, 1206 (5th
Cir. 1975)). ACC alleged the following facts in its
terminated Thornton on March 2, 2017. He appealed via
ACC's administrative appeal procedures, and he hired
attorney Jeff Del Rio to represent him. Del Rio sent ACC a
letter to inform ACC that he represented Thornton in the
matter. Del Rio made a settlement demand of $20, 000 on
behalf of Thornton. ACC's attorney made a counteroffer of
$2, 500 in exchange for a release of Thornton's claims
and several other terms. Del Rio responded with a “best
and final” settlement offer of $10, 000 and stated that
the terms ACC's attorney proposed were acceptable.
ACC's attorney sent an email to Del Rio confirming the
terms of the settlement agreement he and Del Rio reached,
which included (1) payment of $10, 000 to be split between
Thornton and Del Rio, (2) release of all of Thornton's
claims against ACC, (3) non-admission of liability by ACC,
(4) confidentiality of agreement terms by Thornton, (5)
withdrawal of Thornton's charge before the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission, and (6) a neutral
reference for Thornton. Del Rio responded that he was glad
they “could get the matter resolved.” Def.'s
Mot. for Default J. Ex. B, Email from J. Del Rio to P. Lail
(Apr. 12, 2017 at 9:48 AM), ECF No. 8-2 at 2. ACC's
attorney notified the hearing officer that the appeal hearing
could be cancelled. Neither Thornton nor Del Rio informed
ACC's attorney that Thornton had placed any restrictions
or limitations on Del Rio's authority to settle the
claims on Thornton's behalf.
next day, Del Rio notified ACC's attorney that Thornton
did not wish to resolve the matter and that Thornton wanted
to reschedule his appeal hearing. ACC's attorney informed
Del Rio that there was no need to hold the hearing because
the parties had reached a settlement. Shortly after that, Del
Rio informed ACC's attorney that he no longer represented
Thornton. ACC's attorney then wrote Thornton a letter
summarizing the details of the parties' settlement and
asking for instructions on how to issue the settlement
checks. Thornton did not respond, and ACC's attorney
tendered the checks in accordance with Del Rio's prior
instructions. The checks were refused and returned to
ACC's attorney. Thornton later filed this action.
Thornton filed this action, ACC filed a counterclaim seeking
to enforce the settlement agreement. Thornton did not answer
or otherwise respond to the counterclaim, and the Clerk
entered a default under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
55(a). Thornton did not seek to set aside the default.
Although the well-pleaded facts alleged in the counterclaim
are taken as true, the Court must still determine whether
those allegations state a claim for relief. Cf. Eagle
Hosp. Physicians, LLC, 561 F.3d at 1307 (noting that a
default defendant may “challenge the sufficiency of the
complaint, even if he may not challenge the sufficiency of
settlement agreement is a contract, and it ‘must meet
the same requirements of formation and enforceability as
other contracts.'” DeRossett Enters., Inc. v.
Gen. Elec. Capital Corp., 621 S.E.2d 755, 756
(Ga.Ct.App. 2005) (quoting Greenwald v. Kersh, 621
S.E.2d 465, 467 (Ga.Ct.App. 2005)). If a “meeting of
the minds exists” and there is an offer and acceptance
for consideration, then a binding contract is formed.
Id. (quoting Greenwald, 621 S.E.2d at 467).
The law “favors compromise, and when parties have
entered into a definite, certain, and unambiguous agreement
to settle, it should be enforced.” Id.
(quoting Greenwald, 621 S.E.2d at 467). In other
words, a settlement “contract is enforceable when its
terms are ‘expressed in language sufficiently plain and
explicit to convey what the parties agreed upon.'”
Id. at 757 (quoting Mon Ami Int'l, Inc. v.
Gale, 592 S.E.2d 83, 87 (Ga.Ct.App. 2003)).
formal written agreement is not necessary; “letters or
documents prepared by attorneys which memorialize the terms
of the agreement reached will suffice.” Johnson v.
DeKalb Cty., 726 S.E.2d 102, 106 (Ga.Ct.App. 2012)
(quoting Pourreza v. Teel Appraisals & Advisory,
Inc., 616 S.E.2d 108, 111 (Ga.Ct.App.2005)). In
Johnson, for example, the Georgia Court of Appeals
found that emails between the parties' attorneys
constituted a binding settlement agreement. Id.;
accord DeRossett Enters., Inc., 621 S.E.2d at 757
(finding that the parties had a binding settlement agreement
based on letters between their attorneys).
“[u]nder Georgia law an attorney of record has apparent
authority to enter into an agreement on behalf of his client
and the agreement is enforceable against the client by other
settling parties.” Brumbelow v. N. Propane Gas
Co., 308 S.E.2d 544, 546 (Ga. 1983). “This
authority is determined by the contract between the attorney
and the client and by instructions given the attorney by the
client, and in the absence of express restrictions”
that are communicated to opposing parties, “the
authority may be considered plenary by the court and opposing
parties.” Id. “Therefore, where there is
no challenge to the existence or the terms of an agreement
but only to an attorney's authority to enter into it, the
client is bound by its terms even in the absence of a writing
or detrimental reliance on the part of the opposite
party.” Id. at 547.
the terms of the settlement agreement were memorialized in an
email between Del Rio and ACC's attorney: (1) payment of
$10, 000 to be split between Thornton and Del Rio, (2)
release of all of Thornton's claims against ACC, (3)
non-admission of liability by ACC, (4) confidentiality of
agreement terms by Thornton, (5) withdrawal of Thornton's
charge before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,
and (6) a neutral reference for Thornton. ACC knew of no
restrictions on Del Rio's authority to settle
Thornton's claims. Accordingly, there was a binding
settlement agreement between Thornton and ACC. The Court
therefore grants ACC's motion for default judgment on its
counterclaim to enforce the settlement (ECF No. 12).
directed to provide Thornton with a release that releases
only his claims asserted in this action. Thornton is directed
to sign the release and return the release to ACC's
counsel within fourteen days of receipt of it. Within seven
days of receipt of the release, ACC is directed to provide
Thornton with the settlement funds. If Thornton's prior
counsel has filed an appropriate attorney's lien pursuant
to O.C.G.A. § 15-19-14, ACC shall pay the funds into the
registry of this Court, and the Court will determine ...