Ruiz v. Bridgeport et al
ORDER: For the reasons set forth in the attached Ruling, the Defendants' Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement (Doc. No. 54 ) is hereby DENIED, and the Plaintiff's Motion to Amend the Complaint (Doc. No. 32 ) is hereby GRANTED. The plaintiff shall file the amended complaint forthwith. It is so ordered. Signed by Judge Alvin W. Thompson on 3/31/17. (Rafferty, M.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
CITY OF BRIDGEPORT, THOMAS
AUSTIN and STEVE LOUGAL,
CIV. NO. 3:15 CV 253 (AWT)
RULING ON PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT AND DEFENDANTS’
MOTION TO ENFORCE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT
On June 7, 2016, the court having received an email from
counsel reporting settlement, administratively closed the case
without prejudice to reopening on or before July 7, 2016.
June 28, 2016, the plaintiff, through new counsel,
motion to reopen the case, claiming the plaintiff had not agreed
Also on June 28, 2016, the plaintiff filed a
motion to amend the complaint.
On July 11, 2016, the defendants
filed an objection to the plaintiff’s motion to reopen the case,
along with their own motion to enforce the settlement agreement.
The court granted the motion to reopen the case on August
17, 2016, having found that the plaintiff had timely filed his
The court held a hearing on the Plaintiff’s Motion to
Amend the Complaint and the Defendants’ Motion to Enforce
Settlement Agreement on October 18, 2016, during which the court
heard testimony from former counsel for the plaintiff, Attorney
John Bochanis; counsel for the defendants, Attorney John Mitola;
and the plaintiff, Jesus Ruiz.
After the hearing, the court
granted the parties leave to file supplemental briefing.
the reasons set forth below, the defendants’ motion to enforce
the settlement agreement is being denied and the plaintiff’s
motion to amend the complaint is being granted.
The plaintiff, Jesus Ruiz, was employed by the City of
Bridgeport as a kennel worker for approximately seven years
before being promoted to an Animal Control Officer position.
Once he was in the Animal Control Officer position, Ruiz’s
supervisor was Lieutenant Steven Lougal.
Lieutenant Lougal was discriminating against him based on race,
Ruiz filed a discrimination claim with the Connecticut
Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO).
the exact date of the CHRO complaint is unclear, it was filed
prior to October 2014.
On October 3, 2014, while driving a city vehicle during his
shift as an Animal Control Officer, Ruiz was involved in a motor
He filed a workers’ compensation claim
pursuant to the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Act.
of Bridgeport placed Ruiz on paid administrative leave while it
investigated the accident.
To date, the City has not formally
disciplined Ruiz nor charged him with any misconduct related to
the accident, but Ruiz has not been permitted to return to work.
Ruiz commenced this action on January 23, 2015, in
Connecticut Superior Court, claiming state and federal civil
rights violations, discrimination, and retaliation related to
the accident, the subsequent investigation, and his workers’
The case was removed to federal court, and
the plaintiff moved to remand the case back to state court.
granted the motion to remand as to the Sixth Count and denied it
as to the First through Fifth Counts.
On May 3, 2016, the defendants had arranged to depose Ruiz.
The precise details are unclear, but Ruiz arrived at the office
of the defendants’ counsel in City Hall that morning with his
then counsel, Attorney Bochanis.
At that time, Ruiz stayed in
the reception area while Attorney Bochanis met with Attorney
Mitola and Thomas Austin in a conference room to discuss
Attorney Bochanis came out to the reception area at
least twice to discuss the settlement terms with Ruiz.
testified that at one point, Attorney Bochanis “told me that
they wanted to give me a 30-day suspension and I told him I’m
not taking no 30-day suspension.”
Hr’g Tr. at 108.
continued, “So then when he came again he says, okay, they’ll
give you two weeks suspension.
suspension with my position.
I said okay, two weeks
He wanted me to go to kennels.
said I’m not taking the kennels. . . . I told him I’m staying
with my position.
I want my position.
I want to go back.
no matter what happens, I’m not dropping the charges.”
When asked whether he knew Attorney Bochanis had reached an
agreement with the defendants, Ruiz testified, “No, I didn’t
know that they settled.”
Hr’g Tr. at 110.
Once the May 15, 2016 discovery deadline had passed, the
court issued an order on June 6, 2017, referring the case to a
parajudicial officer for a status conference.
notice of the order, Attorney Mitola contacted the court via
email, with a copy to Attorney Bochanis, stating that the case
The Clerk’s Office was directed to close the case.
Meanwhile, after the meeting on May 3, 2016, Ruiz made
several attempts to call Attorney Bochanis to discuss his case,
but “never got a call back from Mr. Bochanis.”
Hr’g Tr. at 111.
Only after Ruiz obtained assistance from Attorney Miller, his
present counsel, to view the docket online did Ruiz learn that
his case had been reported settled and the court had closed the
See Hr’g Tr. at 112-13.
Ruiz testified that when was
finally able to speak to Attorney Bochanis, “I asked him, John,
by any chance did you settle the case?
And he told me yes, I
I said how did you settle the case, John?
I never settled
I never gave permission.
I told you from the
beginning I wanted my position back, two weeks suspension with
my position back.
And I was never going to settle with what
Well, I settled and you have to come down and sign
Hr’g Tr. at 112.
Ruiz engaged his current counsel, Attorney Miller, who
filed the motion to reopen the case and the motion to amend the
complaint on June 28, 2016.
Attorney Bochanis then filed a
motion to withdraw.
“A settlement agreement is a contract that is interpreted
according to general principles of contract law.
into, the contract is binding and conclusive.”
Omnicom, BBDO/PHD, 497 F.3d 124, 128 (2d Cir. 2007).
lawyer-client relation [is] one of agent-principal,” and as is
the case here, “[i]n a case arising under federal law, the scope
of an agent’s authority is determined according to federal
United States v. Int’l Bhd. Teamsters, Chauffeurs,
Warehousemen & Helpers of Am., AFL-CIO, 986 F.2d 15, 20 (2d Cir.
1993) (citing Fennell v. TLB Kent Co., 865 F.2d 498, 501 (2d
Settlement agreements, particularly those to end
While ambiguous in the transcript, it was clear during the hearing that Ruiz
was recounting both sides of his conversation with Attorney Bochanis, and
that the portion, “Well, I settled and you have to come down and sign the
papers,” was meant to quote Attorney Bochanis.
litigation, “are strongly favored by courts and are not lightly
Palmer v. Co. of Nassau, 977 F. Supp. 2d 161, 165-
66 (E.D.N.Y. 2013) (citing Willgerodt v. Hohri, 953 F. Supp.
557, 560 (S.D.N.Y. 1997).
For this reason, “[t]he burden of
proving that an attorney entered into a settlement agreement
without authority is not insubstantial.”
Int’l Bhd., 986 F.2d
at 20 (citing, inter alia, Gilbert v. United States, 497 F.2d
1267, 1268-69 (2d Cir. 1973).
The defendants contend that the meeting concluded with an
oral agreement, approved by Ruiz, to settle all pending
litigation and disputes between the parties, and all that was
left to do was to formalize the settlement in writing.
plaintiff contends that there was no oral agreement because
Attorney Bochanis had neither actual nor apparent authority to
settle on behalf of Ruiz.
Attorney Bochanis testified that the
parties had agreed to a settlement in principle, but that
several material details had not yet been agreed to.2
there is a question of fact as to whether Attorney Bochanis and
the Attorney Mitola had a meeting of the minds sufficient to
form a binding oral agreement, the court need not reach this
See Hr’g Tr. 29 (“THE COURT: Did you report that there was a settlement
contingent upon certain other items being resolved? THE WITNESS: Well,
issue because no such agreement could bind Ruiz unless Attorney
Bochanis had the authority to settle the case.
The court finds
that Attorney Bochanis had no such authority.
Attorney Bochanis Did Not Have Actual Authority
It is “undisputed  that the decision to settle is the
client’s to make, not the attorney’s.”
Fennell v. TLB Kent Co.,
865 F.2d 498, 501 (2d Cir. 1989) (citing United States v. Beebe,
180 U.S. 343, 352 (1901)).
Because Ruiz was not in the room
during the settlement negotiations, and “[t]he lawyer-client
relation being one of agent-principal,” Attorney Bochanis must
have had either actual authority or apparent authority to settle
the case on behalf of Ruiz. See Int’l Bhd., 986 F.2d at 20.
“[A]ctual authority ‘may be inferred from words or conduct
which the principal has reason to know indicates to the agent
that he is to do the act.’” Int’l Bhd., 986 F.2d at 20
(quotation marks omitted) (quoting Edwards v. Born, Inc., 792
F.2d 387, 391 (3d Cir. 1986)).
Ruiz testified that he told
Attorney Bochanis that he would not accept a settlement
agreement placing Ruiz back in a kennel worker position, and
that he communicated this to Attorney Bochanis “from the
beginning until we walked out.”
Hr’g Tr. at 108.
this conduct would indicate to a reasonable attorney that the
attorney has the authority to agree to settlement terms placing
his client in a kennel worker position.
This testimony by Ruiz is consistent with his demeanor and
testimony when describing the position of kennel worker compared
to that of animal control officer.
Ruiz appeared to take great
pride in his work as an animal control officer.
several times that his uniform as an animal control officer was
the same uniform that police officers wear.
See Hr’g Tr. at
He had a police radio and police badges.
See Hr’g Tr. at
When asked whether he was considered an officer in the
Bridgeport Police Department as an animal control officer, Ruiz
said, “Yes. I was considered an officer of the law.”
Ruiz described the kennel worker duties as including
cleaning up after the dogs and cats, feeding the animals, and
disinfecting the cages.
See Hr’g Tr. at 99.
There was also a
pay disparity between the two positions: $28,000 for a kennel
worker, compared to $36,000 for an animal control officer.
the pride Ruiz appeared to take in his work as an animal control
officer was what stood out.
This aligns perfectly with Ruiz’s
testimony that he would refuse any settlement agreement that
would require him to return to work as a kennel worker, rather
than his most recent position as an animal control officer.
The court acknowledges that Attorney Bochanis and Ruiz seem
to have had communication difficulties.
See, e.g., Hr’g Tr. at
106 (Ruiz testifying that Attorney Bochanis had told him the
purpose for being at city attorney’s office on May 3 was for a
hearing, not for a deposition).
difficulties may have led Attorney Bochanis to believe that he
had actual authority to settle the case on behalf of Ruiz,
dependent upon the salary of the position to which Ruiz would
Hr’g Tr. at 37 (“THE COURT: If Mr. Ruiz
told you on that day that he was not willing to accept a
demotion, would that have been inconsistent with your reporting
to the defendants that there was agreement that he would come
back as a kennel worker? Would that have been inconsistent with
that? [ATTORNEY BOCHANIS]: I don’t believe so because I think it
depended upon what the pay grade and the salary amount was to be
given to Mr. Ruiz.”); Hr’g Tr. at 38 (“[ATTORNEY BOCHANIS]:
Again, the word ‘demotion,’ I just don’t recall the word
‘demoted’ coming up, but what was obviously of concern was the
pay grade and the actual dollar amount.”); Hr’g Tr. at 53-54
(Attorney Bochanis on whether Ruiz agreed to return to the
kennel worker position: “As I indicated before, part of the
discussions were what grade he was going to return to and what
Attorney Bochanis’s belief that he had authority to act,
however, has no bearing on the analysis of actual authority.
The standard is whether the principal had reason to know his
words or conduct would indicate to the agent that the agent has
authority to act.
See Int’l Bhd., 986 F.2d at 20; Edwards, 792
F.2d at 391.
Ruiz made very clear to the court that he valued
the job title and duties of the animal control officer position
at least as much as he did the salary of the position, and that
he had rejected any settlement requiring him to return to the
kennel worker position.
Neither the defendants nor Attorney
Bochanis point to any words or conduct on the part of Ruiz that
would cause Attorney Bochanis to reasonably believe he had the
authority agree to a settlement that would require Ruiz to
return to the kennel worker position.
They also do not show
that Ruiz had any reason to know his conduct would cause
Attorney Bochanis to believe as such.
Accordingly, the court
finds Ruiz had no reason to believe his words or actions would
indicate to Attorney Bochanis that Attorney Bochanis had
authority to bind Ruiz to return to the kennel worker position,
regardless of whatever communication difficulties the two may
Therefore, Attorney Bochanis did not have actual
Attorney Bochanis Did Not Have Apparent Authority
“Apparent authority is the power held by an agent or other
actor to affect a principal’s legal relations with third parties
when a third party reasonably believes the actor has authority
to act on behalf of the principal and that belief is traceable
to the principal’s manifestations.”
Restatement (Third) of
Agency § 2.03 (Am. Law Inst. 2003).
It is well established that
“customarily only the representation of the principal to the
third party can create apparent authority, not the
representation of the agent alone.”
Int’l Bhd., 986 F.2d at 20
(citing Fennell v. TLB Kent Co., 865 F.2d 498, 502 (2d Cir.
1989); see also Restatement (Third) of Agency § 3.03 (“Apparent
authority . . . is created by a person’s manifestations that
another has authority to act with legal consequences for the
person who makes the manifestation, when a third party
reasonably believes the actor is to be authorized and the belief
is traceable to the manifestation.”).
Thus, any apparent authority must have been based on
manifestations by Ruiz causing Attorney Mitola or his clients to
reasonably believe Attorney Bochanis was authorized to act.
law is clear that Ruiz did not create apparent authority for
Attorney Bochanis to settle the case “merely by retaining” him.
Fennell, 865 F.2d at 502 (citing United States v. Beebe, 180
U.S. 343, 352 (1901).
Additionally, that Ruiz “knew settlement
was being discussed, did not ask his attorney not to discuss
settlement, would have accepted [different] settlement [terms],
and did not tell defendant[s’] counsel that the authority of
[his] counsel was limited in any way, do not lead to a different
Each of the three witnesses testified that Ruiz remained in
the reception area for the entire duration of the May 3, 2016
settlement discussion between Attorney Bochanis and Attorney
See Hr’g Tr. at 10-11 (Attorney Bochanis testifying he
believed Ruiz came in to the conference room to say goodbye, but
not before); Hr’g Tr. at 82-82 (Attorney Mitola testifying he,
Austin, and Attorney Bochanis left the conference room at the
conclusion of the meeting to shake Ruiz’s hand); Hr’g Tr. at 107
(Ruiz, on whether he was ever in the conference room during
settlement discussions, “No, I was never called into that
The only contact between Ruiz and Attorney
Mitola or Austin was a handshake and exchange of pleasantries
just before Ruiz and Attorney Bochanis left for the day, during
which Ruiz did not say much, if anything at all.
Ruiz’s conduct would lead a reasonable person to believe
Attorney Bochanis had the authority to agree to any specific
terms of a settlement agreement.
The defendants argue that Ruiz’s inaction, or lack of
disaffirming words during this brief exchange, manifested to the
defendants that Attorney Bochanis had authority to act.
Defs.’ Suppl. Br. at 16 (Doc. No. 54).
They correctly point out
that a principal’s silence may create apparent authority.
Restatement (Third) of Agency § 1.03 cmt. b (“Silence may
constitute a manifestation when, in light of all the
circumstances, a reasonable person would express dissent to the
inference that other persons will draw from silence.”).
defendants argue that under this rule, because Ruiz “never
indicated to Attorney Mitola or anyone that there was no
settlement, nor did he act in any manner which would indicate
that he was not accepting the settlement described” in their
brief, “it is clear that Attorney Bochanis had apparent
Defs.’ Suppl. Br. at 16-17, 18.
This argument rests on an assumption that Ruiz knew and
agreed to the settlement terms simply because Attorney Bochanis
left the conference room to confer with his client, and came
back and reported that Ruiz had agreed.
But only the
principal’s own manifestations to the third party can create an
agent’s apparent authority.
Fennel, 865 F.2d at 502.
See Int’l Bhd., 986 F.2d at 20;
Thus, in making this argument, the
defendants improperly impute Attorney Bochanis’s actions to
Had Ruiz, like Austin, been present during the settlement
discussions, or had Attorney Mitola witnessed the terms being
summarized for Ruiz, the defendants’ argument that Ruiz’s lack
of objection manifested apparent authority would be much
Alternatively, had Attorney Mitola done and said
something more specific than offering to shake hands, telling
Ruiz, “I [am] glad we were able to resolve this matter,” and
wishing him luck -- for example, “It’s good that you have agreed
to go back to the kennels” -- Ruiz’s silent handshake, without
protest or question, may have served to sufficiently manifest
Attorney Bochanis’s apparent authority.
Under the actual
circumstances, however, it was reasonable for Ruiz to believe
that Attorney Mitola was merely being polite, and for Ruiz to
have “appeared satisfied” to be leaving City Hall because he had
sat alone in the reception area for the entire duration of the
See Hr’g Tr. at 83 (Attorney Mitola testifying,
“He appeared satisfied that the case was sett[led].”).
Particularly in light of the fact that Ruiz was not present for
the discussions, Attorney Mitola’s comments were not
sufficiently specific for a reasonable person to realize that
the defendants were likely to draw such an inference from his
silence, and thus be put on notice of the need to express
Therefore, Attorney Bochanis lacked apparent authority
to bind Mr. Ruiz to the terms of the settlement agreement.
With neither actual authority nor apparent authority,
Attorney Bochanis was not authorized to settle the case, and
therefore, Ruiz cannot be bound by the agreement.
For the foregoing reasons, the defendants’ motion to
enforce the settlement agreement (Doc. No. 54) is hereby DENIED,
and the plaintiff’s Motion to Amend Complaint (Doc. No. 32) is
The plaintiff shall file the amended complaint
It is so ordered.
Alvin W. Thompson
United States District Judge
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