Johnson v. Victor Nissan, Inc. et al
ORDER GRANTING Dfts' 19 Motion to Enforce Settlement as set out, & Plf is ORDERED to comply w/all of the terms of the General Release and Waiver Agreement including his agreement to mail the agreed retraction letter to the pastors & churches listed in Exhibit B of the General Release and Waiver Agreement. Signed by Judge Callie V. S. Granade on 8/31/2012. (copy mailed to Plf on 8/31/12) (tot)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ELTON L. JOHNSON,
VICTOR NISSAN, INC.,
a/k/a Victor Automotive, and
CIVIL ACTION NO. 11-490-CG-N
This matter is before the court on defendants’ motion to enforce settlement
agreement (Doc. 19), plaintiff’s opposition thereto, filed as a motion to deny
enforcement of retraction letter (Doc. 27), and defendants’ reply (Doc. 28). For the
reasons explained below, the court finds that defendants’ motion should be granted.
On June 28, 2011, Johnson filed a complaint against Victor Nissan, Inc., and
Jerry Victor asserting claims for (1) discrimination in employment on the basis of race,
(2) wrongful termination of employment, (3) retaliation, and (4) breach of contract.
(Doc. 1-2). Plaintiff was represented by counsel throughout the case, until his
attorney, Danny W. Crenshaw moved to withdraw on June 28, 2012 and that motion
was granted by the court. (Docs. 24, 26). The parties agreed to settle the claims and
plaintiff signed a General Release and Waiver Agreement on June 21, 2012. (Doc. 201). In the agreement, the parties agreed that in exchange for payment of a sum of
money, plaintiff would release his claims against the defendants and would issue a
retraction of certain prior statements he made regarding the defendants. With regard
to the retraction, the agreement states the following:
9. Although Releasor understands that he must comply with
the terms and conditions of paragraph 8, he also agrees that he will
publish the one page document that is attached to this General Release
and Settlement Agreement as Exhibit A, which constitutes a retraction
of a previous letter that he published and distributed to pastors and
churches in Dallas County, which is attached as Exhibit B. This 4page document (Exhibit B) contains the names of the pastors and
churches to whom said retraction (Exhibit A) will be sent by U.S. mail
by his attorney of record, Danny Crenshaw. Said letter (Exhibit A) will
be mailed to the individuals listed in Exhibit B within 14 days of the
date of the execution of this General Release and Waiver Agreement.
(Doc. 20-1, pp. 6-7). Plaintiff’s attorney emailed the signed agreement to defendants’
counsel on June 22, 2012 and sent the original signed document to defendants’ counsel
on June 25, 2012. (Docs. 20-2, 20-3). Later on June 25, 2012, Mr. Crenshaw notified
defense counsel that plaintiff had changed his mind about the settlement. Plaintiff
states that he has a problem with sending the retraction letter, contending that it is
full of lies and that his attorney, Mr. Crenshaw, misled him about the necessity of
issuing a retraction letter. According to plaintiff, his attorney proposed the retraction
without discussing it with him first. The plaintiff pleads for the mercy of the court,
and asks that he not be required to send out the retraction letter.
“A district court ordinarily has the power to enforce a settlement agreement
entered into by litigants while litigation is pending before the Court.” Hogan v.
Allstate Beverage Co., Inc., 821 F.Supp.2d 1274, 1278 (M.D. Ala. 2011) (citing
Massachusetts Cas. Ins. Co. v. Forman, 469 F.2d 259, 260 (5th Cir.1972) (per curiam)).
“ ‘[C]onstruction and enforcement of settlement agreements [are] governed by
principles of state law applicable to contracts generally.’ ” Burke v. Smith, 252 F.3d
1260, 1266 (11th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).
In Alabama, "valid settlement agreements are as binding on the parties as any
other contract" and will not be "reopened" absent proof of fraud, accident, mistake, or
duress. See Billy Barnes Enters, Inc. v. Williams, 982 So. 2d 494, 498-499 (Ala. 2007)
(citations omitted). To have an enforceable agreement, sufficient evidence that a
meeting of the minds occurred between the parties as to the terms of the settlement
must be apparent. See Harris v. Preskitt, 911 So. 2d 8, 14 (Ala. Civ. App. 2005). A
meeting of the minds is generally evidenced by a party's execution of a settlement
agreement, and in fact, under certain circumstances, a settlement will be binding on a
party even where the party has not executed a written settlement agreement. See,
e.g., ALA. CODE § 34-2-21 (1975) ("Any attorney has authority to bind his client, in any
action or proceeding, by any agreement in relation to such a case, made in writing, or
by any entry to be made on the minutes of the court."); Harris, 911 So. at 14 (holding
that where letters between the attorneys for the parties showed a meeting of the
minds as to settlement of the claims of the parties, an enforceable settlement
agreement arose, and the trial court could compel the plaintiff to execute a written
Here, the defendants have provided the court with copies of an executed
settlement agreement and waiver and plaintiff does not deny signing the document.
Instead, defendant contends that he was misled by his own attorney. According to
plaintiff, his attorney led him to believe that he would have to issue a retraction letter
if he wanted to settle his claims, but it was reportedly his own attorney that suggested
the retraction letter. Although plaintiff feels he was misled, defendants may not have
agreed to settle for the sum offered if the retraction letter had not been included.
Moreover, plaintiff “voluntarily chose this attorney as his representative in the action,
and he cannot now avoid the consequences of the acts or omissions of this freely
selected agent.” Link v. Wabash Railroad Co., 370 U.S. 626, 633-634, 82 S.Ct. 1386,
1390, 8 L.Ed.2d 734 (1962); see also Barger v. City of Cartersville, 348 F.3d 1289, 1295
(11th Cir.2003) (“[I]f an attorney's conduct falls substantially below what is reasonable
under the circumstances, the client's remedy is against the attorney in a suit for
malpractice.” (quoting Link supra)). Plaintiff executed the General Release and
Waiver Agreement with full knowledge that in doing so he was agreeing to mail a copy
of the retraction letter to the pastors and churches listed in the attached document.
Plaintiff has not alleged that defendants or their counsel engaged in any fraudulent or
inappropriate conduct during their negotiation of the terms of the settlement.
Accordingly, the court finds that plaintiff has failed to offer a valid justification for
invalidating the agreement he executed. See Billy Barnes, supra (stating that
“settlement agreements may be reopened for reasons of fraud, accident, or mistake”
(citations omitted)); Nelson v. Estate of Nelson, 53 So.3d 922, 930 (Ala. Civ. App. 2010)
(finding agreement binding where plaintiff did “not allege that fraud or duress was
involved in the execution of the agreement or that she was in any way prevented from
seeking legal counsel.”); Brown v. Brown, 26 So.3d 1210, 1214 (Ala. Civ. App. 2007),
aff'd, 26 So.3d 1222 (Ala. 2009) (“in the absence of fraud or misrepresentation, a party
is bound by the terms of a contract, even if he fails to read it. The law is equally clear
that ordinarily when a competent adult, having the ability to read and understand an
instrument, signs a contract, he will be held to be on notice of all the provisions
contained in that contract and will be bound thereby.” (quoting Power Equip. Co. v.
First Alabama Bank, 585 So.2d 1291, 1296 (Ala.1991))).
For the reasons stated above, defendants’ motion to enforce settlement
agreement (Doc. 19), is GRANTED and plaintiff is hereby ORDERED to comply with
all of the terms of the General Release and Waiver Agreement including his
agreement to mail the agreed retraction letter to the pastors and churches listed in
Exhibit B of the General Release and Waiver Agreement.
DONE and ORDERED this 31st day of August, 2012.
/s/ Callie V. S. Granade
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?