United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
D. Mariani United States District Judge
matter involves claims asserted by Plaintiff, Dana
Tamberelli, arising out of the termination of her employment
with Alkermes, Inc., in 2015. (Doc. 21). On June 5, 2017, a
purported settlement was reached through negotiations between
one of Plaintiffs attorneys, David Deratzian, and one of
Defendants' attorneys, Barbara Rigo. Plaintiff, however,
denies ever authorizing Deratzian to accept the proposed
settlement offer. As a result, Defendants have filed a Motion
to Enforce Settlement. (Doc. 31). A hearing was held on the
Motion on December 21, 2017. For the reasons that follow, the
Court will deny Defendants' Motion to Enforce Settlement.
the lengthy presentations at the hearing, the facts of this
dispute are simply stated. On June 10, 2015, Plaintiff was
allegedly terminated from her employment for unlawful
reasons. Sometime in late July or early August of that year,
Plaintiff retained the firm of Hahalis & Kounoupis, PC, to
represent her on claims arising out of her termination.
Although Kounoupis was the only attorney who entered his
appearance on Plaintiffs behalf, another attorney at the
firm, Deratzian, was later assigned Plaintiffs file.
testified that on June 5, 2017, Plaintiff came to his office
for the purpose of preparing for her deposition. During that
meeting, Deratzian broached the topic of settlement with
Plaintiff, and Plaintiff agreed to consider settling her
case. Deratzian made several calls to Rigo with settlement
offers. Rigo eventually made a counteroffer of $37, 500 and
expressed that Defendants would not settle the case for more
than that amount. According to Deratzian, he took that offer
to Plaintiff, who was in Deratzian's conference room, and
Plaintiff accepted it. Deratzian then communicated Plaintiffs
acceptance to Rigo.
also testified that she went to Deratzian's office on
June 5, 2017, and that she talked with him about settling her
case. According to Plaintiff, however, she expressly turned
down every offer that Deratzian brought to her, including the
offer of $37, 500, and never gave Deratzian the authority to
accept any settlement offer on her behalf.
to enforce settlement agreements are subject to the same
standard applicable to motions for summary judgment. See
Tiernan v. Devoe, 923 F.2d 1024, 1031(3d Cir. 1991);
Dugan v. O'Hara, 125 F.Supp.3d 527, 535 (E.D.
Pa. 2015). The Court\ "must treat all the
non-movant's assertions as true, and 'when these
assertions conflict with those of the movant, the former must
receive the benefit of the doubt.'"
Tiernan, 923 F.2d at 1032 (quoting Goodman v.
Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir. 1976)).
"Thus, in order to prevail on a motion to enforce a
settlement, the movant must demonstrate that there are no
disputed material facts regarding the terms and existence of
the contract." Long v. EquiCross, Inc., 2014 WL
1391041, at *2 (W.D. Pa. 2014) (citing Tiernan, 923
F.2d at 1031-32).
agreements are essentially contracts, and basic contract
principles apply to their interpretation." Williams
v. Patterson-UTI Drilling Co., 2013 WL 5274860, at *1
(M.D. Pa. 2013). Under Pennsylvania law, "[t]he
essential elements of a contract are an offer, acceptance,
and consideration or a mutual meeting of the minds."
Riviello v. First Nat'l Cmty. Bank, 2013 WL
1348259, at *1 (M.D. Pa. 2013). "As with all contracts,
in the formation of an enforceable settlement agreement,
'the minds of the parties should meet upon all of the
terms, as well as the subject-matter.'" Id.
(quoting Mazzella v. Koken, 739 A.2d 531, 536 (Pa.
1999)). "If there are matters yet to be determined about
the essential terms of a settlement, there is no agreement to
addition, Pennsylvania law requires that "an attorney
must have express authority to settle a cause of action for
the client." See Poller v. Allegheny Cty., 599
Fed.Appx. 425, 426 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting Rothman v.
Fillette, 469 A.2d 543, 545 (Pa. 1983)).
"'Express authority' empowering an attorney to
settle a client's claim 'must be the result of
explicit instructions regarding settlement.'"
Pisarz v. PPL Corp., 2014 WL 220778, at *1 (M.D. Pa.
2014) (quoting Tiernan, 923 F.2d at 1033). "An
attorney-client relationship does not, without more, confer
upon the attorney the authority to settle his client's
case." Smith v. Del. Valley Auto Spring Co.,
642 F.Supp. 1112, 1115 (E.D. Pa. 1986). Accordingly, "an
attorney may not enter a settlement on behalf of his client
without the client's grant of express authority, and such
express authority can only exist where the principal
specifically grants the agent the authority to perform a
certain task on the principal's behalf."
Polzer, 599 Fed.Appx. at 426-27 (quotation marks
there is an undeniable dispute as to whether Plaintiff gave
Deratzian authority to accept Defendants' settlement
offer. Deratzian testified that Plaintiff gave her the
authority to accept Defendants' offer of $37, 500.
Plaintiff, however, unequivocally testified that she turned
down every offer Deratzian brought to her attention and never
gave him authority to settle the case on her behalf. While
much of the parties' questioning at the hearing seemed to
be aimed at establishing the credibility of one witness over
another, this evinces a misunderstanding of the applicable
standard that must be applied by the Court. Applying the
standard as laid out above, the Court "may not make
credibility determinations or weigh the evidence."
See Guidotti v. Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, LLC,
716 F.3d 764, 772 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Reeves v.
Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120
S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000)). Instead, the Court's
only role is to determine whether a dispute of material fact
exists as to the existence of a settlement. See
Dugan, 125 F.Supp.3d at 535. Because the testimony at
the hearing demonstrates a clear dispute as to whether
Plaintiff authorized Deratzian to accept Defendants'
offer, the Court will deny Defendants' Motion to Enforce.
Indeed, the Court cannot do otherwise in light of the mandate
in Dugan that "the non-movant's assertions
must be treated as true; the non-movant must be given the
benefit of the doubt when their assertions conflict with the
movant's assertions." Id. Consistent with
the summary judgment standard, Plaintiff, as the non-movant,
"provide[d] evidentiary support" for her assertions
she relied on in opposing Defendants' Motion.
this Court may not, and has not, made credibility
determinations with respect to the testimony presented nor
weighed the evidence in reaching its determination in this