Alcaide v. Thomas et al

Filing 37

ORDER - IT IS ORDERED Plaintiff's Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement (Doc. 29 ) is DENIED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendants' Motion to Seal Exhibit 1 (Doc. 34 ) is GRANTED. (See document for further details). Signed by Senior Judge James A Teilborg on 10/15/15. (LAD)

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1 WO 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 9 Norbert L. Alcaide, No. CV-11-01162-JAT-JFM Plaintiff, 10 11 v. 12 ORDER Todd Thomas Corrections Corporation of America, 13 Defendants. 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Before the Court is Plaintiff ’s Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement (Doc. 29) and Defendants’ Motion to Seal Exhibit 1 (Unredacted Declaration of T. Thompson) in Support of Defendants’ Response to Plaintiff’s Motion Seeking Request for Relief. (Doc. 34). The Court now rules on the Motions. I. Facts Plaintiff Norbert L. Alcaide (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint against Defendants Todd Thomas and the Corrections Corporation of America (“Defendants”) on June 10, 2011. (Doc. 1). The parties reached a settlement and notified the Court of their agreement on January 23, 2012. (Doc. 21). Based upon the stipulation of the parties (Doc. 27), the Court dismissed the complaint with prejudice on March 5, 2012. (Doc. 28). On August 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed a “Motion Seeking Request for Relief,” claiming he “did not know he was entitled to ‘relief sum’ stated in his complaint.” (Doc. 29). Plaintiff requested ten thousand dollars in punitive damages “which both parties 1 agreed to settle.” (Doc. 29 at 2).1 On September 11, 2015, Defendants filed a response 2 (Doc. 33), lodged an exhibit in support of their response (Doc. 35), and filed a motion to 3 seal the exhibit. (Doc. 34). 4 II. 5 Analysis A. 6 Plaintiff’s Motion to Enforce Settlement 1. Legal Standard 7 The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recognizes a district court’s authority to 8 enforce settlement agreements in litigation pending before it. See In re City Equities 9 Anaheim, Ltd., 22 F.3d 954, 957 (9th Cir. 1994); Calli v. Near, 829 F.2d 888, 890 (9th 10 Cir. 1987). State contract law governs whether the parties “reached an enforceable 11 agreement settling the federal and state law claims.” Wilcox v. Arpaio, 753 F.3d 872, 876 12 (9th Cir. 2014); see Botefur v. City of Eagle Point, Or., 7 F.3d 152, 156 (9th Cir. 1993) 13 (“a settlement agreement is governed by principles of state contract law . . . even where a 14 federal cause of action is ‘settled’ ”).2 15 In Arizona, “settlement agreements, including determinations as to the validity and 16 scope of release terms, are governed by general contract principles.” Emmons v. Superior 17 Court, 968 P.2d 582, 585 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1998) (citing Hisel v. Upchurch, 797 F. Supp. 18 1509, 1517 (D. Ariz. 1992)). General contract principles require, at a minimum, an offer, 19 an acceptance, consideration, and adequate specification of terms so that obligations can 20 be ascertained to have an enforceable contract. Rogus v. Lords, 804 P.2d 133, 135 (Ariz. 21 Ct. App. 1991). Arizona law requires a mirror image acceptance of an offer to 22 consummate an agreement. See Clark v. Compania Ganadera de Cananea, S.A., 385 P.2d 23 691, 697 (Ariz. 1963). Thus, the addition of materially different terms to an agreement 24 25 26 1 The Court interpreted Plaintiff’s motion as a Motion to Enforce Settlement and issued an order to that effect on September 3, 2015. (Doc. 31). 2 27 28 Because Plaintiff’s motion was ambiguous, the Court has not analyzed whether the Court would have the authority to enforce the settlement agreement. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 375-76 (1994) (“[E]nforcement of [a] settlement agreement is for state courts, unless there is some independent basis for federal jurisdiction.”). -2- 1 results in a counteroffer containing the additional terms instead of being treated as an 2 acceptance. See United Cal. Bank v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 681 P.2d 390, 422–23 3 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1983) (citing Clark, 385 P.2d 691). 4 “It is well-established that before a binding contract is formed, the parties must 5 mutually consent to all material terms. A distinct intent common to both parties must 6 exist without doubt or difference, and until all understand alike there can be no assent.” 7 Hill–Shafer P’ship v. Chilson Family Trust, 799 P.2d 810, 814 (Ariz. 1990) (en banc). “A 8 manifestation of assent sufficient to conclude a contract is not prevented from doing so 9 because the parties manifest an intention to memorialize their already made agreement in 10 writing.” Rennick v. O.P.T.I.O.N. Care Inc., 77 F.3d 309, 313–14 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing 11 Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 27 (1981)). A party “attacking a . . . settlement 12 ‘must bear the burden of showing that the contract he [or she] made is tainted with 13 invalidity.’ ” Hisel v. Upchurch, 797 F. Supp. 1509, 1519 (D. Ariz. 1992) (quoting Callen 14 v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 332 U.S. 625, 630 (1948)). 15 2. Discussion 16 Plaintiff claims to be entitled to ten thousand dollars in punitive damages. (Doc. 17 29). Plaintiff suggests the parties agreed to this amount in their settlement agreement. 18 (Doc. 29 at 2). Defendants respond by arguing Plaintiff is not entitled to ten thousand 19 dollars and has already received the relief the parties agreed upon. (Doc. 33 at 1). 20 Defendants lodged a copy of the parties’ signed settlement agreement, dated March 1, 21 2012, to support their argument. (Doc. 35-1). Additionally, Defendants lodged an 22 affidavit of T. Thompson (Doc. 35) and a statement from Plaintiff’s inmate account (Doc. 23 35-2) as evidence Plaintiff received the settlement amount provided for in the parties’ 24 agreement. (Doc. 35-1). Defendants also submitted a signed affidavit of A. Grijalva as 25 evidence Plaintiff received additional, nonmonetary relief agreed upon by the parties. 26 (Doc. 33-2). 27 In his motion, Plaintiff states he “is not educated in the law” and claims the “relief 28 of punitive damages of [ten thousand dollars] which both parties agreed to settle.” (Doc. -3- 1 29). In his reply, Plaintiff claims the “[p]arties agreed to settle the case, the suit was 2 dismissed following the settlement. . . . As outlined under [the] settlement [there] must be 3 some kind of relief.” (Doc. 36). This could be interpreted to claim that Plaintiff did not 4 understand the terms of the settlement agreement and he believed the agreement included 5 an award of ten thousand dollars.3 If Plaintiff is making this claim, he fails to explain why 6 he signed the stipulation with the court agreeing to dismiss the case with prejudice. (Doc. 7 27). Plaintiff also fails to explain why over three years have elapsed between when the 8 case was dismissed and Plaintiff filed this motion. (Doc. 28; Doc. 29). 9 The parties agreed in writing and signaled their intent to be bound to the terms of 10 the agreement by signing the document. (Doc. 35-1 at 6). There is no evidence the 11 agreement lacked mutual assent. The terms of the settlement agreement are not 12 ambiguous, misleading, or otherwise unclear. (Doc. 35-1). The terms of the parties’ 13 settlement agreement (Doc. 35-1) do not provide for Plaintiff to receive ten thousand 14 dollars. “A party to a settlement cannot avoid the agreement ‘merely because he [or she] 15 subsequently believes the settlement is insufficient.’ ” Hisel, 797 F. Supp. At 1519 16 (quoting Taylor v. Gordan Flesch Co., Inc., 793 F.2d 858, 863 (7th Cir. 1986)). Plaintiff 17 has already received the relief agreed upon by the parties in the settlement agreement. 18 (Doc. 35-1). Plaintiff has made no showing why the agreement should now be set aside. 19 Thus, the Court denies Plaintiff’s motion. (Doc. 29). 20 B. Defendants’ Motion to Seal Exhibit 1 21 On September 11, 2015, Defendants lodged an unredacted Exhibit 1 (Doc. 35) in 22 support of their reply to Plaintiff’s motion (Doc. 33), pursuant to LRCiv. 5.6. The lodged 23 document contains an affidavit of T. Thompson. (Doc. 35). Attached to the affidavit is 24 the parties’ settlement agreement, Attachment A (Doc. 35-1) and a statement from 25 Plaintiff’s inmate account, Attachment B. (Doc. 35-2). Defendants have also filed a 26 27 28 3 The filings of a pro se plaintiff are generally treated differently than those of a plaintiff represented by counsel. See Christensen v. C.I.R., 786 F.2d 1382, 1384 (9th Cir. 1986) (citing Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980) (per curiam)) (noting “[t]he Supreme Court has directed federal trial courts to read pro se papers liberally.”). -4- 1 motion to seal the lodged exhibit. (Doc. 34). Defendants claim the exhibit and 2 attachments should be sealed because: “(1) the parties agreed to keep the terms of the 3 Settlement Agreement confidential, (2) public policy favors keeping settlement 4 negotiations and agreements confidential in order to encourage settlement, and (3) safety 5 and security concerns unique to the correctional environment favor keeping monetary 6 worth of inmates confidential.” (Doc. 34 at 2). 7 1. Legal Standard 8 The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recognizes the authority of district courts to 9 protect confidential settlement agreements. Phillips ex rel. Estates of Byrd v. Gen. Motors 10 Corp., 307 F.3d 1206, 1212 (9th Cir. 2002). However, it has long been recognized that 11 the public has a general right of access “to inspect and copy . . . judicial records and 12 documents.” Nixon v. Warner Commc’ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978). This right 13 extends to all judicial records except those which have “traditionally been kept secret for 14 important policy reasons.” Times Mirror Co. v. United States, 873 F.2d 1210, 1219 (9th 15 Cir. 1989). Generally, any analysis regarding a motion to seal begins with a “strong 16 presumption in favor of [public] access.” Foltz v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 331 17 F.3d 1122, 1135 (9th Cir. 2003). This presumption is far stronger for dispositive motions 18 than non-dispositive because dispositive motions resolve the dispute in lieu of trial. 19 Kamakana v. City & Cty. of Honolulu, 447 F.3d 1172, 1179 (9th Cir. 2006). Non- 20 dispositive motions and their attachments are often “unrelated, or only tangentially 21 related, to the underlying cause of action.” Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20, 22 33 (1984). Therefore, the public’s presumption of access is lessened for a non-dispositive 23 motion. Williams v. U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n, 290 F.R.D. 600, 604 (E.D. Cal. 2013). Thus, a 24 showing of “good cause” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c) is sufficient to 25 establish a basis to protect a party’s information. Foltz, 331 F.3d at 1135. 26 2. Discussion 27 Defendants argue the Court should seal the Declaration and Attachment A 28 because the parties signed a confidentiality agreement. (Doc. 35 at 2). Absent other -5- 1 considerations, an agreement to keep a settlement agreement confidential would fail to 2 satisfy the “compelling reasons” standard for dispositive motions. See Gamble v. Arpaio, 3 No. CV-12-790-PHX-GMS, 2013 WL 142260, at *5 (D. Ariz. Jan. 11, 2013). However, 4 since the exhibit was attached to Defendant’s response (Doc. 33), a nondispositive filing, 5 the “good cause” standard of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c) applies. Under this standard and with 6 the facts unique to this case, a different conclusion is reached. 7 Defendants claim the parties only “reached an agreement because of their 8 understanding that it would be kept confidential.” (Doc. 34 at 3). Both public and 9 judicial policy favors the settlement of disputes. Churchill Vill., L.L.C. v. Gen. Elec., 361 10 F.3d 566, 576 (9th Cir. 2004) (internal citation and quotation omitted); Lundy v. Airtouch 11 Commc’ns, Inc., 81 F. Supp. 2d 962, 970 (D. Ariz. 1999). The settlement agreement in 12 this case was not part of the judicial record prior to Plaintiff’s motion. (Doc. 29). The 13 agreement was provided only to prove Plaintiff is not entitled to the relief he seeks. If 14 courts were to allow plaintiffs to circumvent bargained for confidentiality by filing 15 baseless claims, it would remove an incentive for parties to settle their disputes and 16 simultaneously encourage meritless claims. Balancing the competing interests involved 17 and considering the lessened presumption of public access, the promotion of settlement 18 agreements outweighs the public need for access in this case. Thus, Defendants have 19 demonstrated “good cause” why the unredacted affidavit of T. Thompson (Doc. 35) and 20 the parties’ settlement agreement (Doc. 35-1) should be sealed. 21 Defendants’ motion also seeks to seal Plaintiff’s inmate account statement (Doc. 22 35-2), “to protect Plaintiff’s safety.” (Doc. 34 at 3-4). “A party asserting good cause bears 23 the burden, for each particular document it seeks to protect, of showing that specific 24 prejudice or harm will result if no protective order is granted.” See Foltz, 331 F.3d at 25 1130 (citation omitted). Defendants claim that if the settlement amount or Plaintiff’s 26 account information becomes known, Plaintiff may be blackmailed, assaulted, or attacked 27 by other inmates. (Doc. 34 at 3-4). Defendants further assert that inmates with knowledge 28 of the settlement agreement or Plaintiff’s account information could use the information -6- 1 to “intimidate or manipulate [their] security personnel or pursue frivolous lawsuits.” 2 (Doc. 34 at 4). 3 The “good cause” standard permits the protection of information that may subject 4 a party to “annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.” Fed. R. 5 Civ. P. 26(c)(1). The risk posed to Plaintiff, in a prison environment, meets this showing. 6 It is likely that public disclosure of Plaintiff’s account information or details of the 7 amount of the parties’ monetary settlement could expose Plaintiff to “oppression” in the 8 form of violence or exploitation from other inmates. Thus, Defendants have shown good 9 cause why Plaintiff’s inmate account statement (Doc. 35-2) should be sealed. 10 III. Conclusion 11 Based on the foregoing, 12 IT IS ORDERED Plaintiff’s Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement (Doc. 29) 13 14 15 16 is DENIED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion to Seal Exhibit 1 (Doc. 34) is GRANTED. Dated this 15th day of October, 2015. 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -7-

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