Fisher v. Fisher
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS re 112 MOTION to Strike 107 MOTION Reopen Case and Enforce Settlement Agreement, 113 MOTION to Reopen Case filed by Michael K. Fisher, 107 MOTION Reopen Case and Enforce Settlement Agreement filed by Doris R. Fisher Signed by: Judge Magistrate Judge Stephanie A Gallagher. Signed by Magistrate Judge Stephanie A Gallagher on 10/25/2016. (c/m 10/25/2016)(krs, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
MICHAEL K. FISHER,
DORIS R. FISHER,
Case No.: GLR-11-1038
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS
This Report and Recommendations addresses the Motions to Reopen filed by Defendant
Doris R. Fisher and Plaintiff Michael K. Fisher, and the Motion to Strike filed by Plaintiff. See
[ECF Nos. 107, 112, 113]. On October 13, 2016, Judge Russell referred this case to me to
review the motions, oppositions, and replies, and to make recommendations concerning how to
proceed. See [ECF No. 120]. For the reasons discussed herein, I recommend that all of the
pending motions be DENIED, but that the above-captioned case be REOPENED AND
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
On April 19, 2011, Plaintiff, son of the Decedent Robert K. Fisher, filed a Complaint
against the Defendant, Decedent’s second wife, seeking equitable enforcement of contractual and
ancillary agreements underlying two mutual and reciprocal wills executed respectively by the
Decedent and the Decedent’s first wife in 1993. See [ECF No. 1]. Plaintiff also sought, among
other things, punitive damages against the Defendant for tortious interference with the above
contracts and Plaintiff’s expectancy. Id. On May 1, 2013, Judge Quarles granted the parties’
request to stay this case pending the outcome of related litigation in state court, and
administratively closed this case, subject to reopening on motion of the parties. [ECF No. 105].
In February, 2010, Defendant had initiated a caveat proceeding against Plaintiff in the
Circuit Court of Anne Arundel County, Maryland (Michael K. Fisher v. Doris R. Fisher, Case
No. 02-C-10-154548 OA). Def.’s Mot. [ECF No. 107-1 at 3]. Defendant contended that
Decedent’s 2005 Will, which favored Defendant, superseded the 1993 Will, which favored
Plaintiff. Id. A jury determined the 2005 Will to be invalid, and entered a verdict in Plaintiff’s
favor on June 30, 2014. Id. Defendant appealed the decision to the Court of Special Appeals of
Maryland (Doris Fisher v. Michael Fisher, 1336 ST 2014). Pl.’s Opp. [ECF No. 110 at 6]. Pl.’s
Mot. [ECF No. 113-1 at 2]. The parties participated in Court-ordered mediation on November
21, 2014, and purportedly entered into a written Settlement Agreement containing a global
release from all past and future litigation (“2014 state Settlement Agreement”). Def.’s Mot.
[ECF No. 107-1 at 2, 5]. Pl.’s Opp. [ECF No. 110 at 10]. On March 18, 2015, however, the
Maryland Court of Special Appeals entered an order terminating mediation because “the parties
have been unable to settle the issues raised by the appeal.” Pl.’s Opp. [ECF No. 110 at Exhibit
1]. Ultimately, Defendant’s appeal was dismissed on June 2, 2015. Pl.’s Mot. [ECF No. 113-1
On December 30, 2015, in this Court, Defendant filed a Motion to Reopen Case and
Enforce Settlement Agreement. See Def.’s Mot. [ECF No. 107]. Invoking the Court’s “inherent
authority and equitable power to enforce settlement agreements executed by parties in order to
resolve litigation pending before the Court,” Defendant asks the Court to reopen the instant case
for purposes of (1) enforcing the 2014 state Settlement Agreement, and (2) dismissing this case
with prejudice. Def.’s Mot. [ECF No. 107-1 at 7, 17 (citing Millner v. Norfolk & W. Ry. Co.,
643 F.2d 1005, 1009 (4th Cir. 1981)).
After filing a response in opposition to Defendant’s motion as well as a motion to strike
Defendant’s motion, [ECF Nos. 110 & 112], Plaintiff filed his own Motion to Reopen seeking
declaratory judgment that the 2014 state Settlement Agreement is invalid and unenforceable.1
See Pl.’s Mot. [ECF No. 113]. Plaintiff also asks the Court to deny Defendant’s Motion to
Reopen and to keep the instant case administratively closed or, alternatively, set “all issues so
triable including on these additional issues” to trial by jury. Pl.’s Opp. [ECF No. 110 at 24].
Plaintiff concedes, however, that the breach of contract claims raised in the instant federal case
were “rendered moot by the Circuit Court’s judgment of June 30, 2014 and by the Circuit
Court’s determination that the Decedent and [Defendant] were in a relationship confidence and
trust throughout their marriage.” Id. at 12.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Both parties now ask this Court to opine on the validity of the 2014 state Settlement
Agreement, which was not part of the original federal complaint filed in 2011. The burden of
demonstrating that an action lies within a federal court’s jurisdiction “rests upon the party
asserting jurisdiction.” Barbour v. Int’l. Union, 640 F.3d 599, 605 (4th Cir. 2011) (en banc),
abrogated on other grounds by 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(2)(B) (citations omitted). “Generally, a
district court may not enforce a Settlement Agreement unless ‘the agreement [has] been
approved and incorporated into an order of the court, or, at the time the court is requested to
enforce the agreement, there exists some independent ground upon which to base federal
Plaintiff’s motion to strike Defendant’s Motion to Reopen is procedurally improper. The motion to strike
addresses the merits of Defendant’s motion, which Plaintiff had already addressed in his opposition to Defendant’s
motion. The fact that a motion is contested does not provide a basis to strike it. Accordingly, I recommend that
Plaintiff’s motion to strike [ECF No. 112] be denied.
jurisdiction.” Columbus-America Discovery Group v. Atlantic Mut. Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 291, 299
(4th Cir. 2000) (citing Fairfax Countywide Citizens Ass’n v. Fairfax County, 571 F.2d 1299,
1303 (4th Cir. 1978)). See also Simmons v. United Mortgage and Loan Inv., LLC, 634 F.3d 754
(4th Cir. 2011) (“[District courts” lack the power to enforce the terms of a settlement agreement
absent jurisdiction over a breach of contract action for failure to comply with the settlement
agreement.”). Moreover, “[e]nforcement of a settlement agreement is essentially an action for
breach of contract, which is governed by state and not federal law.” Columbia Gas Transmission
Corp. v. Ashleigh Heights LLC, 261 F. Supp. 2d. 332, 333 (D. Md. 2002).
As set out above, to establish jurisdiction to grant the parties’ requested relief, the parties
must either show that the 2014 state Settlement Agreement was incorporated into an order of this
Court or that federal jurisdiction exists on some independent basis. The parties do not allege, nor
do I find, that this Court entered any order with a provision expressly reserving the Court’s
jurisdiction to enforce a private settlement agreement in this matter, or otherwise approving and
incorporating the Settlement Agreement in question. In fact, this case has been stayed and
administratively closed since 2013, before the 2014 state Settlement Agreement was even
written. Therefore, the parties must alternatively demonstrate that the instant dispute falls within
the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction. The parties have failed to do so.
In all of the pending motions, oppositions, and replies, the parties reference a single
inapposite case to suggest that the Court has jurisdiction to make determinations concerning the
2014 state Settlement Agreement. Def.’s Mot. [ECF No. 107-1 at 7]. In Millner v. Norfolk &
W. Ry. Co., the parties reached a private settlement agreement concerning an action pending
before the federal district court. Millner, 643 F.2d at 1006. The question on appeal was whether
the District Court could summarily enforce the settlement agreement. Id. at 1008. Contrary to
Defendant’s claim, Millner does not recognize the trial court’s general “inherent equitable power
summarily to enforce a settlement agreement,” Def. Mot. [ECF No. 107-1 at 7], but rather limits
this authority to instances “when the practical effect is merely to enter a judgment by consent …
‘admirably suited to situations where, for example, a binding settlement bargain is conceded as
shown, and the excuse for nonperformance is comparatively unsubstantial.’” Millner, 643 F.2d
at 1009 (citations omitted). Here, the 2014 state Settlement Agreement is far from resolved.
Also, unlike in Millner, the instant Settlement Agreement arose not from the federal litigation
pending before this Court (GLR-11-1038), but from a separate state action before the Maryland
Court of Special Appeals (Doris Fisher v. Michael Fisher, 1336 ST 2014).
enforcement or invalidation of the 2014 state Settlement Agreement is effectively a contract
matter governed by state law, over which this Court patently lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
See Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., 261 F. Supp. 2d. at 333 (declining to consider
enforcement of a settlement agreement even where it was reached in the underlying federal
In addition to seeking enforcement of the 2014 state Settlement Agreement, Defendant
seeks to have this case reopened and dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff likewise admits that
“[t]he breach-of-contract claims raised in the above-captioned action [have] been rendered moot
by the Circuit Court’s judgment of June 30, 2014.” Pl.’s Opp. [ECF No. 110 at 12 ¶ 36]. Since
both parties agree that the claims raised in this 2011 federal lawsuit are fully resolved, I
recommend that this case be reopened and dismissed with prejudice.
For the aforementioned reasons, I recommend that this Court:
1. DENY Plaintiff’s motions [ECF Nos. 112, 113];
2. DENY Defendant’s motion [ECF No. 107]; and
3. REOPEN AND DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE the above-captioned case.
I also direct the Clerk to mail a copy of this Report and Recommendations to Plaintiff at
the address for Plaintiff listed on the Civil Docket for this case.
Any objections to this Report and Recommendations must be served and filed within
fourteen (14) days, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(2) and Local Rule
NOTICE TO PARTIES
Failure to file written objections to the proposed findings, conclusions, and
recommendations of the Magistrate Judge contained in the foregoing report within fourteen (14)
days after being served with a copy of this report may result in the waiver of any right to a de
novo review of the determinations contained in the report and such failure shall bar you from
challenging on appeal the findings and conclusions accepted and adopted by the District Judge,
except upon grounds of plain error.
October 25, 2016
Stephanie A. Gallagher
United States Magistrate Judge
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