Sanders v. UNUM Life Insurance Company of America
ORDER GRANTING 10 Motion to Enforce Settlement. Unums Motion for Attorneys Fees is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Signed by Judge David A. Ezra. (aej)
THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
SAN ANTONIO DIVISION
UNUM LIFE INSURANCE
COMPANY OF AMERICA,
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO ENFORCE
Before the Court is a Motion to Enforce Mediated Settlement
Agreement and a Motion for Attorneys’ Fees filed by Defendant Unum Life
Insurance Company of America (“Unum”) (Dkt. # 10). Plaintiff Carrie Sanders
did not file a response. Pursuant to Local Rule CV-7(h), the Court finds these
matters suitable for disposition without a hearing.
Sanders participated in a group long-term disability benefits plan
administered by Unum, and became disabled under the meaning of the policy in
2005. (“Compl.,” Dkt. # 1 ¶¶ 8–12, 16.) Unum paid long-term disability benefits
under the policy until 2014, when Unum concluded that Sanders was able to
perform other gainful employment; at that time, Unum terminated Sanders’
monthly disability payments. (Compl. ¶¶ 17–41.) Sanders appealed her
termination of benefits through Unum’s administrative process, but the decision to
terminate her benefits was upheld. (Compl. ¶¶ 42–44.) The instant lawsuit ensued.
Unum raised a counterclaim against Sanders for failure to reimburse Unum for
overpayments under the policy due to her receipt of monthly Social Security
Administration benefits, both as required by the policy and by a Reimbursement
Agreement entered into between the parties on March 24, 2007. (Dkt. # 3 ¶¶ 60–
Sanders and Unum, along with their respective counsel, engaged in
mediation on November 3, 2015. (Dkt. # 10 at 2.) The parties came to an
agreement, and signed a mediated settlement agreement memorializing such. (Id.
at 2–3; “Settlement,” Dkt. # 10, Ex. A.) Unum tendered a check to Sanders’
attorney, pending execution of the Final Release and dismissal of suit. (Dkt. # 10
at 3.) Sanders delayed signing either document, and instead requested numerous
changes to the Final Release; Unum complied and made all such changes. (Id.)
Sanders still refused to sign the release, and Unum filed the instant Motion to
Enforce the Settlement Agreement on January 18, 2016. (Dkt. # 10.) The next day,
Sanders’ attorney filed a motion to withdraw due to Sanders’ refusal to comply
with the mediated settlement agreement; this Court granted the motion on February
5, 2016 and granted Sanders fourteen additional days to respond to the additional
motion. (Dkts. ## 11, 16.)
Enforcement of the Settlement Agreement
“A settlement agreement, once entered into, cannot be repudiated by
either party and will be summarily enforced.” United States v. City of New
Orleans, 731 F.3d 434, 439 (5th Cir. 2013). “Federal courts have the inherent
power to enforce settlement agreements entered into by the parties.” Matter of
Omni Video, Inc., 60 F.3d 230, 232 (5th Cir. 1995) (quoting White Farm Equip.
Co. v. Kupcho, 792 F.2d 526, 529 (5th Cir. 1986)). The validity of a settlement
agreement “is determined by reference to state substantive law governing contracts
generally.” Kupcho, 792 F.3d at 529.
The settlement agreement at issue here was entered into in Texas, and
Texas law applies when determining the validity of the agreement. See Omni
Video, 60 F.3d at 232. In Texas, “[s]ettlement agreements are governed by the law
of contracts.” Schriver v. Tex. Dep’t. of Transp., 293 S.W.3d 846, 851 (Tex. App.
2009). A valid contract contains five elements: “(1) an offer; (2) acceptance; (3)
meeting of the minds; (4) each party’s consent to the terms; and (5) execution and
delivery of the contract with the intent that it be mutual and binding.” Cessna
Aircraft Co. v. Aircraft Network, L.L.C., 213 S.W.3d 455, 465 (Tex. App. 2006).
Here, it is clear that there was offer, acceptance, and a “meeting of the
minds;” these elements were memorialized in the signed writing before the Court.
In the context of settlement, the fourth element of contract formation is satisfied if
the parties “agree to the essential terms of the contract[:] . . . the amount of
compensation and the liability to be released.” Disney v. Gollan, 233 S.W.3d 591,
595 (Tex. App. 2007). This fourth element of contract formation is satisfied here:
Unum was obligated by the agreement to pay $48,200.00 to Sanders, an amount
which included Sanders’ $700.00 portion of the mediation fee. (Settlement ¶¶ 4,
13.) In exchange for such compensation, Sanders agreed to release Unum and its
agents and representatives of any liability owed Sanders in connection with the
disputed claim for insurance benefits under the Long Term Disability and
Disability Plus plan. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 8–12.) The writing manifests clear consent to the
essential terms of the settlement agreement. The contract was duly executed,
meeting the fifth requirement for contract formation in Texas, as evidenced by the
signatures of Jessica Taylor, Sanders’ former attorney; Ms. Sanders herself; and
Dennis Lynch, attorney of record for Unum. (Id. at 3).
Finally, a valid and enforceable settlement agreement must also
comply with Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 11, “which requires agreements
regarding pending suits to ‘be in writing, signed and filed with the papers as part of
the record.’” Padilla v. LaFrance, 907 S.W.2d 454, 457 (Tex. 1995) (quoting Tex.
R. Civ. P. 11). Here, the Settlement Agreement is in writing, and has been filed as
an exhibit to the motion, and is therefore part of the Court’s record. The
November 3, 2015 Settlement Agreement before the Court satisfies the
requirements for contract formation and Rule 11, and is valid under Texas law.
See Kupcho, 792 F.2d at 529.
No evidence has been presented to the court to repudiate the
contract’s validity; accordingly, it must be enforced. See City of New Orleans,
731 F.3d at 439. Unum’s motion to enforce the mediated settlement agreement is
GRANTED; Sanders is directed to sign the Final Release most recently negotiated
by Unum Life within fourteen days from the date of entry of this order, and
otherwise comply with the terms of the settlement agreement.
Because the motion to enforce the settlement agreement was brought
under Texas law, “Texas law may control the award of fees.” Kucel v. Walter E.
Heller & Co., 813 F.2d 67, 73 (5th Cir. 1987). In Texas, “the party seeking to
recover attorney's fees carries the burden of proof.” Stewart Title Guar. Co. v.
Sterling, 822 S.W.2d 1, 10 (Tex. 1991). When awarding attorneys’ fees, a court
“may award those fees that are “reasonable and necessary” for the prosecution of
the suit.” Id. However, “attorney fees can be awarded only for necessary legal
services rendered in connection with the claims for which recovery is authorized.”
Green Tree Acceptance, Inc. v. Pierce, 768 S.W.2d 416, 425 (Tex. App. 1989).
Where fees are authorized for some claims and not others, a party is generally not
entitled to request attorneys’ fees in connection with a claim for which a fee is not
authorized. Id. at 425.
Defendant’s answer sought attorneys’ fees for its counterclaim against
Sanders, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g). (Dkt. # 3 ¶¶ 60–68.) However, those
claims, for which attorneys’ fees could be claimed (all of which are released by the
settlement agreement) are separate from the right to attorneys’ fees with regard to
enforcement of the mediated settlement agreement. Defendant has failed to
provide any statutory support for his request for attorneys’ fees in this case.
Accordingly, defendant’s request for attorney fees is DENIED WITHOUT
For the reasons stated above, Unum’s Motion to Enforce the Mediated
Settlement Agreement is GRANTED (Dkt. # 10); Sanders is directed to sign the
Final Release most recently negotiated by Unum Life within fourteen days from
the date of entry of this order, and otherwise comply with the terms of the
settlement agreement. Unum’s Motion for Attorneys’ Fees is DENIED
WITHOUT PREJUDICE (Dkt. # 10).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: San Antonio, Texas, April 11, 2016.
David Alan Ezra
Senior United States Distict Judge
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