May v. United States of America
ORDER denying 37 Fluor's motion for summary judgment; denying 44 May's motion to invalidate the settlement agreement. The Court enters the following case management deadlines: Discovery: 3/15/18; Mediation: 3/30/18; Joint Final Pret rial Statement: 4/20/18; All other motions including motions in limine: 4/20/18; Final Pretrial Conference: 4/25/18 at 10:00 A.M.; Trial term begins: 5/7/18 at 9:00 A.M. The parties shall notify the Court regarding whether they consent to referral to the Magistrate Judge by 2/2/18. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Corrigan on 1/12/2018. (Attachments: # 1 Consent to US Magistrate Judge Jurisdiction letter and form) (SEJ) Modified on 1/12/2018 to edit text per Chambers. (TMC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
Case No. 3:16-cv-587-J-32JRK
FLUOR FEDERAL SOLUTIONS, LLC,
a Foreign Limited Liability Company,
This personal injury action is before the Court on: (1) Defendant Fluor Federal
Solutions, LLC’s Motion for Final Summary Judgment (Doc. 37), to which Plaintiff
Tanya May filed a response (Doc. 38); and (2) May’s Motion to Invalidate the
Settlement Agreement (Doc. 44), to which former Defendant United States of America
filed a response (Doc. 45).
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY1
May alleges that she went to the Naval Station Mayport, Jacksonville, Duval
County, Florida (“Mayport”) on November 18, 2014 to play bingo as an invitee of the
United States. May alleges that while at Mayport, she tripped and fell on an unpainted
Neither party provided a statement of facts in the briefing on summary
judgment containing citations to the record, so the Court will reconstruct the
background from the Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) (Doc. 22) and both parties’
briefs as best as possible.
parking curb in a parking lot without lighting and sustained bodily injury. Fluor was
allegedly responsible for maintaining the lighting at Mayport.
On May 12, 2016, May filed a complaint against the United States of America
under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), alleging one count of negligence based
on premises liability. (Doc. 1). She amended her complaint (Doc. 13) after the United
States filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 7). The United States filed a second motion to
dismiss, arguing that independent contractor Fluor was solely responsible for the
maintenance of the lights in the parking lot at Mayport, and therefore the United
States was not liable based on an exception to FTCA liability. (Doc. 14).
On September 9, 2016, May and the United States notified the Court that they
had reached an agreement in principle to settle the claims against the United States
(Doc. 20), and on September 15, 2016, the Court entered an Order directing the parties
to file dismissal papers or other papers to close out the file by November 11, 2016 or
the case would be dismissed (Doc. 21). Neither party did so, and the case was
automatically dismissed without prejudice as to the United States on November 11,
2016. The parties filed a joint stipulation of dismissal with prejudice on February 6,
2017 (Doc. 28), and the Court entered an Order dismissing the action against the
United States with prejudice that same day (Doc. 29).
Following her settlement with the United States, on September 23, 2016, May
filed the SAC, naming Fluor as the sole defendant and alleging one count of negligence
based on premises liability.2 (Doc. 22). Fluor filed an answer. (Doc. 26). The parties
The Court has diversity jurisdiction in this case. (Doc. 33).
filed the pending motions for summary judgment and to invalidate the settlement
agreement (Docs. 37 and 44), which are ripe for review.
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Material Question of Fact Regarding Negligence
To prevail on her negligence claim, May must prove four elements: duty of care,
breach of that duty, causation, and damages. Schwartz v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 155
So. 3d 471, 473 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2015). The existence of a duty of care is generally
a question of law to be determined by the court, while breach, causation, and damages
are generally questions to be decided by the trier of fact. Id.
Fluor argues that May cannot establish a material question of fact concerning
Fluor’s negligence because the parking bumper was an “open and obvious” condition.
(Doc. 37 at 4); see Ramsey v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 124 So. 3d 415, 419 (Fla. Dist.
Ct. App. 2013) (“trial court properly granted summary judgment to Home Depot in
this negligence case because the Ramseys failed to establish that Home Depot had a
duty to warn of the presence of a wheel stop that was located in an open and obvious
place”). May had visited Mayport three times before her accident (Doc. 40-1 at 22:2-5),
so according to Fluor, she was aware of the location of the parking bumpers. To that
end, Fluor also submits a daytime photograph of the Mayport parking lot showing the
parking bumpers at each parking space. (Doc. 37-2). In addition, Fluor argues that
May cannot prove that it failed to maintain the parking lot in a reasonably safe
condition because she testified that she did not look around the parking lot to see
whether the lights were on, and she does not know whether any lights were
malfunctioning on the night she fell. (Doc. 40-1 at 30:8-20).
In response, May argues that the evidence precludes summary judgment
because she testified that it was dark when she was walking through the parking lot
and not “lit up.” (Doc. 40-1 at 30:11-16). In addition, May’s daughter, Jenjer Sawyer,
who was with May on the night of the accident, testified that there was no lighting
near where May fell and that the lights were off. (Doc. 42-1 at 36:2-10).
While the Court may find that a parking bumper is an open and obvious
condition in certain circumstances, see Ramsey, 124 So. 3d at 419, here, it was
allegedly dark, and the parties dispute the state of the lighting in the parking lot.
Under these circumstances, the Court finds that a genuine issue of material fact exists
as to Fluor’s alleged negligence. See Aaron v. Palatka Mall, L.L.C., 908 So. 2d 574, 579
(Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2005) (“We believe that the dark and rainy conditions and the
inadequate lighting may have prevented [plaintiff] from observing, with the use of her
ordinary senses, any danger posed by the bumper. In other words, we think that under
these facts and circumstances, a jury should decide whether the parking lot bumper
was a dangerous condition that was open and obvious.”). Thus, Fluor’s motion for
summary judgment on the negligence claim is due to be denied.
Release of Claims
Although Fluor was not party to the settlement between May and the United
States, Fluor argues that May released her claims against it, too, when she signed the
Stipulation for Compromise Settlement and Release of Federal Tort Claims Act
Claims Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2667 (the “Release”) (Doc. 37-1) on December 15, 2016.
(Doc. 37 at 5). Paragraph 3 of the Release states that May releases all claims which
she had or might acquire against the United States and “its agents, servants and
employees on account of the same subject matter that gave rise to the above-captioned
action . . . .” (Doc. 37-1 ¶ 3) (emphasis added). In paragraph 8 of the SAC, May alleges
that “The United States employed Fluor to maintain the property . . .” (Doc. 22 ¶ 8)
(emphasis added). As such, Fluor argues that as an alleged employee or servant of the
United States according to May’s allegations, it is entitled to the protection of the
Release. Fluor provides no evidence other than the SAC to support its position that it
is the United States’ employee.
By contrast, May argues that Fluor is not entitled to the protection of the
Release and points to paragraph 9 of the Answer, in which Fluor admits that it
contracted with the United States but denies the remainder of the allegations of
paragraph 8 of the SAC, which include its status as an “employee.” (Doc. 26 ¶ 9). In
addition, May provides evidence demonstrating that she did not intend to include
Fluor in the scope of the Release with the United States and tried to add language to
the Release to that end. (Docs. 41-2, 41-3). However, the United States could not agree
to May’s additional language excluding Fluor because the Release is a government
form which counsel for the United States did not have discretion to edit or change.
(Doc. 41-3). Consequently, the language was excluded from the Release, which May
The Court cannot find as a matter of law that Fluor is the United States’
employee, such that it is entitled to summary judgment. The evidence demonstrates
that, at a minimum, there is a factual dispute about Fluor’s employment status. See
Carlson v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 787 F.3d 1313, 1318 (11th Cir. 2015)
(citation and alterations omitted) (“In Florida, it is well-established that the question
of an employer/employee relationship is generally a question of fact, and therefore a
question for the trier of fact.”). No party provided a complete copy of the contract
between Fluor and the United States for the maintenance work at Mayport. However,
in connection with its motion to dismiss, the United States attached the facilities
portion of the contract between it and Fluor, noting that the document was part of a
“larger contract.” (Doc. 14 at 4 n.5; Doc. 14-1). The facilities contract refers to Fluor as
a “Contractor.” (Doc. 14-1). In addition, in its briefing on the motion to dismiss, the
United States refers to Fluor as “an independent contractor . . . solely responsible for
maintaining the lights about which plaintiff principally complains.” (Doc. 14 at 1). The
only (feeble) evidence of Fluor’s status as an employee is May’s allegation in paragraph
8 of the SAC.
Based on the competing descriptions of Fluor’s employment status in the record,
the Court cannot conclude as a matter of law that the Release encompasses Fluor.
Therefore, summary judgment on this issue is due to be denied.
MOTION TO INVALIDATE THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT
Following the motion for summary judgment contending that the Release
applies to Fluor, May filed a motion to invalidate her settlement agreement with the
United States. (Doc. 44). May argues that the United States fraudulently induced her
into entering the settlement agreement by stating that the settlement agreement
would not apply to Fluor, and that Fluor alone was responsible for maintaining the
lights at Mayport. (Doc. 44 at 2-3). May fails to cite the legal basis for her motion, nor
does she cite any analogous case law in support. (See Doc. 45 at 5-6).
In response, the United States argues that the Court should deny the motion
on at least four separate grounds: (1) May cites no rule that authorizes the Court to
grant the relief she seeks; (2) the motion is untimely, as Rule 60(c), Fed. R. Civ. P.,
requires that motions seeking relief must be filed within one year of the entry of
judgment; (3) the Court lacks jurisdiction to enforce or invalidate a settlement
agreement because it did not expressly retain jurisdiction to act; and (4) the United
States committed no fraud. (Doc. 45).
As explained in the Background, see supra Part I, this case was automatically
dismissed without prejudice as to the United States on November 11, 2016, after
neither party filed dismissal papers. (Doc. 21). That Order states in bold letters that
“in some cases, the Court may not have jurisdiction to enforce settlement agreements
once the case has been dismissed without prejudice.” (Id.). As a formality, the parties
finally filed dismissal papers on February 6, 2017 which dismissed the case against
the United States with prejudice. (Doc. 28). The Court entered an Order to that effect
on the same day. (Doc. 29).
While each of the United States’ arguments has arguable merit, the Court need
not examine all of them because, as the United States asserts, the Court lacks
jurisdiction to rule on May’s motion. (Doc. 45 at 7-9). In neither the November 11, 2016
nor the February 6, 2017 Orders did the Court retain jurisdiction to enforce (or
invalidate) the settlement agreement. See Anago Franchising, Inc. v. Shaz, LLC, 677
F.3d 1272, 1280–81 (11th Cir. 2012) (district court lacked jurisdiction to enforce
settlement agreement because “[t]he district court did not retain jurisdiction to enforce
the Settlement Agreement here because the court issued no such order before the case
was dismissed and the stipulation was not conditioned by the entry of an order
retaining jurisdiction”). May provides no grounds for the Court’s continued
jurisdiction. “When the settlement agreement is not made part of a court order, it is
merely a private contract arising out of a case in federal court and ‘ha[s] nothing to do
with’ the underlying case.” Id. (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. of America, 511
U.S. 375, 380 (1994)). Therefore, May’s motion to invalidate the settlement agreement
is due to be denied.3
Accordingly, it is hereby
Defendant Fluor Federal Solutions, LLC’s Motion for Final Summary
Judgment (Doc. 37) is DENIED.
May’s Motion to Invalidate the Settlement Agreement (Doc. 44) is
While the parties proposed a full case schedule in the Case Management
Report (Doc. 36), a full schedule does not appear necessary at this stage of the
litigation. The Court enters the following schedule for the remainder of the case:
Given the Court’s ruling denying Fluor’s summary judgment motion based on
the Release, May may no longer be interested in this motion.
March 15, 2018
March 30, 2018
Terrance E. Schmidt, Esq.
Joint Final Pretrial Statement
April 20, 2018
All other motions including motions in April 20, 2018
Final Pretrial Conference
April 25, 2018 at 10:00 A.M.
Trial Term Begins
May 7, 2018 at 9:00 A.M.
Estimated Length of Trial
The Court has set this case for the May 2018 trial term, but because of
the criminal docket, it may be difficult to provide the parties with a date certain for
trial. The Magistrate Judge would provide the parties a date certain for trial; the
parties may wish to consent to having the assigned United States Magistrate Judge
try the case. No later than February 2, 2018, the parties should either file the
attached consent form or notify the Court that they do not wish to consent to trial
before the Magistrate Judge.
DONE AND ORDERED in Jacksonville, Florida the 12th day of January,
Counsel of record
Mediator Terrance Schmidt
Honorable James R. Klindt, United States Magistrate Judge
(Attached Magistrate Judge Consent Form)
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