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Cooper v. State, Department of Taxation

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

September 25, 2019

MARIO COOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF TAXATION, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO GRANT DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO ENFORCE SETTLEMENT

          ROM A. TRADER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Defendants' Motion to Enforce Settlement (“Motion”) (ECF No. 109) came on for hearing on August 15, 2019 at 9:30 a.m. before the Honorable Judge Rom A. Trader. Plaintiff Mario Cooper, pro se (“Plaintiff”), appeared on behalf of himself by phone. Jeffrey A. Keating, Deputy Attorney General, appeared on behalf of the Defendants, State of Hawaii, Department of Taxation, et al. (“Defendants”). The Court will enter its disposition through findings and recommendations pursuant to Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         The Court, having carefully considered the written submissions of the parties, the parties' declarations and exhibits, the argument of counsel, the records and files in this case, and the applicable law, FINDS and RECOMMENDS that Defendants' Motion be GRANTED for the reasons stated on the record and as stated below.

         RELEVANT FACTS

         On June 25, 2019, the Court held a settlement conference in this matter. This Court facilitated settlement discussions, which led to the resolution of this case. On that same day, Plaintiff and Defendants' counsel came into open court and stated on the record that they had agreed to settle this case. The material terms of the settlement were placed on the record.

         The terms of the settlement were that in exchange for general damages of $80, 000.00, Defendant agreed to a non-disparagement provision in that the Department of Tax and the Department of Human Resources would respond to inquiries about Plaintiff's prior employment with the Department of Taxation in a neutral manner. Motion, Exhibit B, p. 2, ¶¶ 19-25. Defendants were permitted to release neutral, factual information verifying Plaintiff's employment and neutral, factual information of the type generally reported. Id. at p. 3, ¶¶ 1-10. However, Defendants may not suggest or confirm in any way that Plaintiff was terminated. Id.

         Plaintiff further agreed that he would be precluded from reapplying for employment with the Department of Taxation or the Department of Human Resources, but was not precluded from applying for other positions with the state government or elsewhere. Id. at p. 3, ¶¶ 7-15. Plaintiff agreed to dismiss any and all related cases that stem from Plaintiff's employment at the Department of Taxation, except for Plaintiff's ongoing worker's compensation case. Id. at p. 3, ¶¶ 16-21. Such cases included but are not limited to Plaintiff's pending state case in circuit court, cases pending before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, and Plaintiff's grievance/arbitration case. Id. at p. 3, ¶¶ 22-25. The parties agreed to bear their own attorneys' fees and costs. Id. at p. 4, ¶¶ 3-5. However, the parties agreed that the Court would retain jurisdiction for the limited purpose of resolving any disputes relating to the enforcement of the settlement. Id. at p. 4, ¶¶ 4-8.

         This Court specifically asked Plaintiff whether these terms “accurately state the material terms of the settlement” and are “satisfactory to [his] understanding of what the terms are.” Id. at p. 4, ¶¶ 9-12; ¶¶ 19-24. Plaintiff responded, “Yes, they are.” Id. at ¶ 25. Upon explaining the next steps after execution of the settlement agreement, this Court again inquired whether Plaintiff understood all the terms of the settlement agreement. Id. at p. 5, ¶¶ 10-11. Plaintiff responded, “Yes, I have.” Id. at ¶ 12. The Court further asked if the material terms agreed upon was Plaintiff's “full and complete understanding of the terms, ” to which Plaintiff responded, “Yes.” Id. at ¶¶ 13-16. The Court then asked the parties if they “consent or agree to resolve this case and the other cases consistent with those terms, ” and Plaintiff responded, “I agree.” Id. at ¶¶ 17-20.

         The Court set July 25, 2019 as the deadline for the parties to submit their stipulated dismissal of this action. Defendants prepared the settlement documents memorializing the agreement. However, Plaintiff later refused to sign the draft settlement agreement. Defendants filed their Motion on July 10, 2019. On July 19, 2019, Plaintiff filed his Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Enforce the Settlement Agreement (“Opposition”) arguing that (1) the proposed settlement does not reflect a reasonable compromise of Plaintiff's Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) claim, and no bona fide dispute exists in this case; (2) the release is unenforceable on public policy grounds; (3) no stipulation exists because Plaintiff objects to the proposed release; and (4) Defendants did not have proper settlement authority. ECF No. 112. The Defendants filed their Reply on July 23, 2019. ECF No. 113.

         DISCUSSION

         I. The Oral Agreement on Record is a Binding Settlement Agreement

         “‘[I]t is now well established that the trial court has power to summarily enforce on motion a settlement agreement entered into by the litigants while the litigation is pending before it.'” In re City Equities Anaheim, Ltd., 22 F.3d 954, 957 (9th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted).

         “The motion to enforce [a] settlement agreement essentially is an action to specifically enforce a contract.” Adams v. Johns-Manville Corp., 876 F.2d 702, 709 (9th Cir. 1989) (citations omitted). “In order to be enforceable, a settlement agreement must have the traditional elements of a contract: offer, acceptance, consideration, and parties who have the capacity and authority to enter into the agreement.” Kaiaokamalie v. Matson Terminals, Inc., Civ. No. 13-00383 JMS-RLP, 2016 WL 7476336, at *4 (D. Haw. Dec. 29, 2016); Amantiad v. Odum, 90 Hawai'i 152, 162, 977 P.2d 160, 170 (1999) (citation omitted).

         The settlement in this case included all the elements of a contract: offer and acceptance, consideration, and parties who had the capacity and authority to enter into the settlement. The material terms of the settlement were clear and were unequivocally placed on the record. The Defendants agreed to pay Plaintiff $80, 000.00. Motion, Exhibit B, p. 5, ¶¶ 1-5. In turn, the Plaintiff agreed to dismiss any and all related cases that stem from Plaintiff's employment at the Department of Taxation, with the exception of Plaintiff's worker's compensation case. Id. at p. 3, ΒΆΒΆ 16-21. This dismissal was ...


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