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Mary Mackrides v. Marshalls

April 23, 2013

MARY MACKRIDES
v.
MARSHALLS, MARMAXX OPERATING CORP., AND THE TJX COMPANIES, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, C.J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This closed personal injury action has been brought before the Court on Motion of the Plaintiff to Enforce the Settlement which the parties entered into on July 20, 2012, two days before the matter was slated to be tried before a jury. For the reasons outlined below, the motion must be denied.

Factual Background

This case resulted from Plaintiff's slip and fall accident which occurred on October 29, 2009 at the Langhorne, Pennsylvania Marshalls' Store owned and operated by Defendants. Plaintiff sustained a fractured hip as the result of her fall, necessitating surgery with the implantation of a rod and screws. As noted, Plaintiff agreed to accept the sum of $29,750.00 to settle this case some 7 1/2 months ago but according to the motion which is now before us, neither the settlement funds, nor a release have yet been forwarded by Defendants. Defendants assert that because Plaintiff is an 86-year-old Medicare beneficiary, they cannot be compelled to forward a release or the settlement monies until such time as Plaintiff's counsel provides a Final Demand letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ("CMS") reflecting whether a Medicare lien exists and if so, how much money is owed to reimburse Medicare for its payment of Plaintiff's medical bills.

Standards Applicable to Motions to Enforce Settlements

As a general rule, courts "encourage attempts to settle disagreements outside the litigative context." Wilcher v. City of Wilmington, 139 F.3d 366, 372 (3d Cir. 1998). "An agreement to settle a lawsuit, voluntarily entered into, is binding upon the parties, whether or not made in the presence of the court and even in the absence of a writing." Maya Swimwear Corp. v. Maya Swimwear, LLC, 855 F. Supp. 2d 229, 233 (D. Del. 2012). A settlement agreement is a contract and is interpreted according to local law. Wilcher, supra. Likewise, the enforceability of settlement agreements is governed by principles of contract law. Pennsbury Village Associates, LLC v. McIntyre, 608 Pa. 309, 322, 11 A.3d 906, 914 (2011)(citing Mazella v. Koken, 559 Pa. 216, 739 A.2d 531, 536 (1999)). "Courts will enforce a settlement agreement if all its material terms have been agreed upon by the parties," and "[a] settlement agreement will not be set aside absent a clear showing of fraud, duress or mutual mistake." Id, (citing Century Inn, Inc. v. Century Inn Realty, Inc., 358 Pa. Super. 53, 516 A.2d 765, 767 (1986)). In addition, when parties agree to resolve pending litigation through a settlement agreement and a dispute arises regarding the enforcement of that agreement, a district court may enter injunctive relief on a party's behalf to enforce a settlement agreement when it determines that one of the parties has failed to perform its obligations. Saudi Basic Industries v. Exxon Corp., 364 F.3d 106, 112 (3d Cir. 2004); Boyd v. Cambridge Speakers Series, Inc., No. 09-4921, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61234 at *18 (E.D. Pa. June 18, 2010).

Because "the question of whether an undisputed set of facts establishes a contract is a matter of law,...in order to prevail on a motion to enforce a settlement, the movant must essentially meet a summary judgment standard." Behrend v. Comcast Corp., No. 03-6604, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 137451 at *17 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 25, 2012)(citing Tiernan v. Devoe, 923 F.2d 1024, 1031-1032 (3d Cir. 1991) and Quandry Solutions, Inc. v. Verifone, Inc., No. 07-097, 2009 U.S. dist. LEXIS 31459, 2009 WL 997041 at *5 (E.D. Pa. April 13, 2009)). That is, the moving party "must show that there are no disputed material facts regarding whether a contract was formed, and that there are no disputed material facts regarding the terms of the contract." Id. It is only then that a settlement agreement is properly enforced.

Discussion

In this case, Plaintiff asserts that on July 20, 2012, two days before this case was scheduled for trial, "the parties agreed to a settlement where Defendants would pay ... $29,750.00 to Plaintiff in exchange for a general release." (Pl.'s Motion to Enforce Settlement, ¶7). Then, "[s]ubsequent to July 20, 2012, Defendants began imposing new conditions on the settlement despite representing to the Court that the matter was settled," one of which was "that Medicare verify that they do not have a lien over the settlement." (Pl.'s Motion, ¶s 8,9). According to Plaintiff, she has sought and obtained a letter from Medicare which states that it did not pay any claims relative to the accident, but Defendants have still failed to provide a Release for Plaintiff's signature or the settlement funds. (Pl.'s Motion, ¶s10, 12).

In opposing Plaintiff's motion for the enforcement of the settlement, Defendants contest Plaintiff's version of events. Instead, Defendants contend that "[a]t the time of settlement, defense counsel discussed with plaintiff's counsel via telephone a lien in the amount of $26,830.49 being asserted by Blue Cross and the possibility of the entire lien or portions of the lien being subject to the [Medicare Secondary Payer] Act and/or other medical expenses, not included in this known lien, paid or to be payable being subject to the Act." In purported follow-up to this discussion, defense counsel "forwarded plaintiff's counsel a letter via facsimile, which confirmed the settlement amount and specifically stated 'This settlement is subject to final agreement to all settlement terms in a Release." (emphasis in original).

In light of the parties' assertions, it appears that the relevant portions of the Medicare Secondary Payer Act, particularly 42 U.S.C. §1395y(b) and the Medical Care Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. §2651 are at issue here. The Medicare Secondary Payer Act ("MSP") reads as follows in pertinent part:

(B) Conditional payment. (I) Authority to make conditional payment. The Secretary may make payment under this title with respect to an item or service if a primary plan described in subparagraph (A) (ii) has not made or cannot reasonably be expected to make payment with respect to such item or service promptly (as determined in accordance with regulations). Any such payment by the Secretary shall be conditioned on reimbursement to the appropriate Trust Fund in accordance with the succeeding provisions of this subsection.

(ii) Repayment required. A primary plan, and an entity that receives payment from a primary plan, shall reimburse the appropriate Trust Fund for any payment made by the Secretary under this title [42 U.S.C. §1395 et. seq.] with respect to an item or service if it is demonstrated that such primary plan has or had a responsibility to make payment with respect to such item or service. A primary plan's responsibility for such payment may be demonstrated by a judgment, a payment conditioned upon the recipient's compromise, waiver, or release (whether or not there is a determination or admission of liability) of payment for items or services included in a claim against the primary plan or the primary plan's insured, or by other means. If reimbursement is not made to the appropriate Trust Fund before the expiration of the 60-day period that begins on the date notice of, or information related to, a primary plan's responsibility for such payment or other information is received, the Secretary may charge interest (beginning with the date on which the notice or other information is received) on the amount of the reimbursement until reimbursement is made... .

(iii) Action by United States. In order to recover payment made under this title [42 U.S.C. ยงยง1395 et. seq.] for an item or service, the United States may bring an action against any or all entities that are or were required or responsible (directly, as an insurer or self-insurer, as a third-party administrator, as an employer that sponsors or contributes to a group health plan, or large group health plan, or otherwise) to make payment with respect to the ...


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