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Maley v. Corizon Health, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

November 8, 2019

BELINDA LEE MALEY, individually and on behalf of the Estate of Matthew Clinton Loflin, deceased; and GENE LOFLIN, individually; Plaintiffs,
v.
CORIZON HEALTH, INC., a Delaware Corporation, and SCOTT KENNEDY, M.D., Defendants.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR. JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (Doc. 151) and Defendants' Motion to Enforce Settlement (Doc. 152). For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' motion (Doc. 151) is DENIED and Defendants' motion (Doc. 152) is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 22, 2016, Plaintiff Belinda Maley filed this action seeking to recover for the wrongful death of her son, Matthew Loflin. (Doc. 1.) Loflin's father, Gene Loflin, was later added as a plaintiff in this action. (Doc. 92.) Plaintiffs sought to recover under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Corizon Health, Inc. ("Corizon") and Defendant Dr. Scott Kennedy for the alleged deliberate indifference to Loflin's medical condition. (Doc. 1.)

         Plaintiffs' amended complaint also requested that "the Court require Defendant Corizon to pay the legal costs and expenses herein including reasonable attorney's fees . . . ." (Doc. 92 at 20.) Plaintiffs included a similar request regarding Defendant Kennedy. (Id. at 21.)

         The trial on this case was set to begin on July 15, 2019 in Savannah, Georgia. (Doc. 151 at 2.) However, on July 12, 2019, following a telephone conference with the Court, Plaintiffs accepted a settlement offer from Defendants for $850, 000 in an e-mail.[1] (Doc. 152, Attach. 1.) In this e-mail, Plaintiffs' counsel told Defendants' counsel that he would "notify the court of the settlement and release all witnesses we have under subpoena." (Doc. 152, Attach. 1.) On the same day, Plaintiffs' counsel sent an email that provided Defendants with Plaintiffs' W-9 form and instructed Defendants to "order the check and have it made payable to 'Belinda Maley, Estate of Matthew Loflin, Gene Loflin and Jones, Osteen & Jones'." (Doc. 152, Attach. 2.) The following day, July 13, 2019, Plaintiffs' counsel thanked Defendants' counsel for their "professionalism and efforts to get this case resolved." (Doc. 152, Attach. 3.)

         On July 16, 2019, Defendants' counsel emailed the Confidential Settlement Agreement and Release (Doc. 153, Attach. 5) to Plaintiffs' counsel, but Plaintiffs' counsel responded by informing Defendants that he does not "typically enter into any release especially when, as here, the statutes of limitation and repose have run. Upon receipt of the settlement proceeds, I will file a dismissal with prejudice." (Doc. 152, Attach. 4.) Plaintiffs' counsel sent another e-mail on July 18, 2019 objecting to certain confidentiality provisions of the Confidential Settlement Agreement and Release. (Doc. 155, Attach. 4.) Following Plaintiffs' counsel's instructions, Defendants remitted the settlement proceeds to Plaintiffs on July 26, 2019, with a letter stating that the payment "represents full and final settlement of all claims asserted by Ms. Maley against Corizon Health, Inc. and Dr. Scott Kennedy." (Doc. 155, Attach. 5.) The check was made payable to Plaintiffs and their counsel. (Doc. 155, Attach. 5.)

         On August 29, 2019, over a month after receiving the settlement proceeds, Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs. (Doc. 151.) Subsequently, on September 10, 2019, Defendants filed their Motion to Enforce Settlement (Doc. 152) and Brief in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (Doc. 153) . On September 23, 2019, Plaintiffs filed their Reply to Defendants' Response to Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (Doc. 155) and their Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Enforce Settlement (Doc. 156). On October 3, 2019, Defendants filed replies to both of Plaintiffs' previously mentioned documents. (Doc. 159; Doc. 160.) As of the date of this order, Plaintiffs have not signed the settlement agreement or filed a notice of dismissal.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Motion to Enforce Settlement

         In their Motion to Enforce Settlement, Defendants argue that the parties have a valid, enforceable agreement because "correspondence between the parties demonstrates mutual assent to the terms of the settlement agreement . . . ." (Doc. 152 at 7.) Specifically, Defendants assert that Plaintiffs' behavior indicates that the remittance of settlement proceeds was for "full settlement of all claims" against Defendants. (Doc. 152 at 8.) Defendants contend that "Plaintiffs' acceptance was unequivocal and did not carve out any exceptions or conditions .... Thereafter, all parties acted consistently with a complete compromise of the case." (Doc. 152 at 7.)

         In response, Plaintiffs concede that the case was "settled for a total of $850, 000" (Doc. 151 at 3) and "agree that the parties reached a full and final resolution of the underlying substantive § 1983 claims only." (Doc. 156 at 5.) Thus, Plaintiffs' only contention is that the settlement agreement does not include attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 because they were never discussed. (Doc. 156.)

         Federal courts "use the applicable state's contract law to construe and enforce settlement agreements." Vinnett v. Gen. Elec. Co., 271 Fed.Appx. 908, 912 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Ins. Concepts Inc. v. W. Life Ins. Co., 639 F.2d 1108, 1111-12 (5th Cir. 1981)). Under Georgia law, "in order to succeed on a motion to enforce a settlement agreement, a party must show the court that the documents, affidavits, depositions and other evidence in the record reveal that there is no evidence sufficient to create a jury issue on at least one essential element of the [non-movant's] case." Fitzhugh v. AB McDonough's. Inc., No. CV416-113, 2017 WL 937965, at *2 (S.D. Ga. Mar. 9, 2017) (enforcing a settlement where "there was a meeting of the minds between the parties regarding settlement as reflected in . . . emails between the parties' respective counsel.") (quoting DeRossett Enters., Inc. v. Gen. Elec. Capital Corp., 275 Ga.App. 728, 729, 621 S.E.2d 755, 756 (Ga.Ct.App. 2005)).

         "A settlement agreement is a contract, and it must meet the same requirements of formation and enforceability as other contracts." DeRossett Enters., Inc., 621 S.E.2d at 756. "A definite offer and complete acceptance, for consideration, create a binding contract." Moreno v. Strickland, 255 Ga.App. 850, 853, 567 S.E.2d 90, 92 (Ga.Ct.App. 2002). Additionally, "the law favors compromise, and when parties have entered into a definite, certain, and unambiguous agreement to settle, it should be enforced." Id. Even where parties have not signed a formal settlement agreement, "letters or documents prepared by attorneys which memorialize the terms of the agreement reached will suffice." Brumbelow v. N. Pipeline Gas Co., 251 Ga. 674, 676, 308 S.E.2d 544, 547 (1983); see also Jackson v. Cooper Lighting, LLC, No. 1:11-CV-067, 2013 WL 1501611, at *2 (M.D. Ga. Apr. 10, 2013) ("[T]he fact that Plaintiff did not sign the agreement does not change the Court's finding that the parties reached an agreement to settle."). Moreover," [a]ssent to the terms of the agreement can be implied from the circumstances, and conduct inconsistent with a refusal of the terms raises a presumption of assent upon which the other party can rely." Wong v. Bailey, 752 F.2d 619, 621 (11th Cir. 1985) (citing Smith v. Hornbuckle, 140 Ga.App. 871, 875, 232 S.E.2d 149 (Ga.Ct.App. 1977)); see also Blitch Ford, Inc. v. MIC Property & Cas. Ins. Corp., 981 F.Supp. 1475, 1480-81 (M.D. Ga. 1997) (granting a motion to enforce settlement agreement where one ...


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