United States District Court, D. Delaware
Wilmington this 22nd day of February, 2017, having reviewed
defendant's motion to enforce the parties' settlement
agreement and the papers submitted in connection therewith,
the court issues its decision based on the following
16, 2016, Keisha Simmonds ("plaintiff') filed an
action pursuant to the Federal Torts Claim Act, 28 U.S.C.
§ 1346(b), against the United States of America
("defendant"). The parties reached an agreement
during a settlement conference, presided over by Magistrate
Judge Fallon, on November 7, 2016. (D.I. 11 at 2) Plaintiff
subsequently refused to sign the written agreement, and
defendant filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement.
(D.I. 10) The court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
April 15, 2014, plaintiff slipped on a wet floor in a federal
building in Wilmington, Delaware. (D.I. 1 at¶4)
Plaintiff alleges that defendant knew or should have known
that the floor was wet, and she suffered injuries to her
back, right shoulder, buttocks, and leg as a result of
defendant's alleged negligence. (Id. at
¶¶ 6a, 7) Plaintiff sued under the Federal Tort
Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). She sought damages in
relation to past and future medical expenses and associated
costs. (Id. at ¶ 9) On September 15, 2016, the
case was referred to Magistrate Judge Fallon to explore
alternative dispute resolution and, after speaking with the
parties on October 12, 2016, Magistrate Judge Fallon issued
an order scheduling a settlement conference for November 7,
2016. (D.I. 11 at 1)
the November 7, 2016 settlement conference, Magistrate Judge
Fallon explained the settlement negotiation process, and she
directed each party to make a statement concerning the case.
(D.I. 11 at 2) Following the statements, the parties engaged
in a five-hour long negotiation during which a series of
offers and counteroffers were made. (Id.) The
parties ultimately agreed that defendant would pay plaintiff
$34, 400 in exchange for a full release of all of
plaintiff's claims, dismissal of the case, and
indemnification by plaintiff against any future litigation.
Following this agreement, Magistrate Judge Fallon met with
the parties to detail the settlement terms and ensure that
both parties fully understood them. (Id. at 3) The
following day, defendant's counsel emailed the settlement
agreement to Lawrence Ramunno, plaintiff's counsel.
(Id.) Mr. Ramunno notified defendant's counsel
that plaintiff refused to sign the agreement. (Id.)
Plaintiff believed that there was no agreement until a
written document was signed. (D.I. 13 at 3) Defendant
subsequently filed a motion to enforce the settlement
agreement. (D.I. 10)
Standard of Review.
district court has jurisdiction to enforce a settlement
agreement entered into by litigants in a case pending before
it. See Hobbs & Co. v. Am. Investors Mgmt, Inc.,
576 F.2d 29, 33 & n. 7 (3d Cir. 1978). Because motions
for the enforcement of settlement agreements resemble motions
for summary judgment, the court must employ a similar
standard of review. See Tiernan v. Devoe, 923 F.2d
1024, 1031-32 (3d Cir. 1991). Accordingly, the court must
treat all the non-movant's assertions as true, and
"when these assertions conflict with those of the
movant, the former must receive the benefit of the
doubt." Id. at 1032 (internal quotation and
citation omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate only if
"there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and
... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Courts should not summarily
enforce purported settlement agreements in the absence of an
evidentiary hearing where material facts concerning the
existence or terms of an agreement to settle are in dispute.
See Tiernan, 923 F.2d at 1031 (quoting
Garabedian v. Allstates Eng'g Co., 811 F.2d 802, 803
enforce a settlement agreement, the court must follow
contract principles set forth by Delaware state law.
Leonard v. University of Delaware, 204 F.Supp.2d
784, 787 (D. Del. 2002). Under Delaware law, parties enter
into a contract when "a reasonable person would
conclude, based on the objective manifestations of assent and
the surrounding circumstances, that the parties intended to
be bound by their agreement on all essential terms."
Maya Swimwear Corp. v. Maya Swimwear, LLC, 855
F.Supp.2d 229, 234 (D. Del. 2012) (quotations and citations
omitted). In the context of a settlement agreement, the
agreement is binding if "a reasonable negotiator in the
position of one asserting the existence of a contract would
have concluded... that the agreement reached constituted
agreement on all of the terms that the parties themselves
regarded as essential and thus that that agreement concluded
the negotiations and formed a contract." Id.
Here, defendant made an offer of $34, 400 in exchange for
plaintiff's release of all claims, dismissal of the case,
and indemnification by plaintiff against any future
litigation. (D.I. 12 at ¶ 6) The parties Dated this
agreement at the settlement conference on November 7, 2016,
which was presided over by Magistrate Judge Fallon.
(Id. at ¶ 4) Following the agreement,
Magistrate Judge Fallon met with both parties to ensure that
they fully understood and agreed to the terms. (Id.
at ¶ 7) Based upon the settlement conference and meeting
with Magistrate Judge Fallon, the court concludes that the
parties objectively intended and assented to be bound by the
terms set forth in the November 7 settlement conference.
Plaintiff argues that the parties had not come to an
agreement during the November 7 conference because a signed
release was required before the settlement was enforceable.
(D.I. 13, affidavit ¶ 9) Under Delaware law, a contract
is not enforceable if the parties agreed that it was
contingent on drafting and signing a written document.
Anchor Motor Freight v. Ciabattoni,716 A.2d 154,
156 (Del. 1998). Here, there is no indication that the
parties agreed that the settlement was contingent on a
written document being signed by the parties. Plaintiff
contends that the settlement was contingent on her signing
the agreement, yet she does not offer any evidence to support
this. (D.I. 13 at 3) Even if plaintiff did believe that the
agreement was contingent on her signing the release, it would
be a mistaken assumption because the parties had not agreed