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Kendrell v. Mattis

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 19, 2018



          ROBERT F. KELLY, Sr. J.

         Plaintiff Irene Kendrell (“Ms. Kendrell”) filed this action as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Anthony Kendrell against Defendant Jim Mattis, the Secretary of the United States Department of Defense (“Government”) alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§12101 et seq., ADA Retaliation, 42 U.S.C.A. §12203(a), and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 10:5-12.

         On or around September 21, 2016, Ms. Kendrell filed a Complaint on behalf the estate of her son, Anthony Kendrell, in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. (Doc. No. 1.) On January 13, 2017, the case was transferred to this Court. (Id.) In her Complaint, Ms. Kendrell alleges that the Government harassed, discriminated, and retaliated against Anthony Kendrell in violation of the ADA and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. (Compl. ¶¶ 33-42.) Ms. Kendrell alleges that, as a result of the Government's actions, Anthony Kendrell took his own life on May 23, 2015. (Id. ¶ 30.) A settlement agreement was reached between the Government and Ms. Kendrell's attorneys, Mr. Matthew Weisberg (“Mr. Weisberg”) and Mr. Anthony DiJiacomo (“Mr. DiJiacomo”), on February 22, 2018. However, Ms. Kendrell refused to sign it because, in her opinion, it was “completely different” from what she had authorized her attorneys to enter. (Tr. 5/15/2018, 6-8.)

         On April 4, 2018, the Government filed a Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement against Ms. Kendrell. This Court entered an Order dated April 17, 2018 granting the Government's Motion. On April 19, 2018, Ms. Kendrell filed an Emergency Motion, pro se, requesting a hearing on the Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement.[1] An evidentiary hearing was held on May 15, 2018, in which testimony was heard from Ms. Kendrell, Mr. Weisberg, and Mr. DiJiacomo.

         The issue presently before the Court is whether the parties entered into a valid settlement agreement. After hearing the testimony and considering the evidence presented, the Court makes the following findings of fact.


         1. Ms. Kendrell, in her capacity as the personal representative of the Estate of Anthony Kendrell, was represented by Mr. Weisberg and Mr. DiJiacomo in a lawsuit against the Government. Tr. 5/15/2018, 5-6, 11, 13.

         2. Settlement negotiations began in October 2017. Id. at 6, 14-15. Mr. DiJiacomo asked Ms. Kendrell what she was willing to accept to settle the case. Ms. Kendrell said that given a choice between monetary compensation or injunctive relief, she would choose injunctive relief. Id.

         3. The injunctive relief, or “changes, ” that Ms. Kendrell wanted included requiring the Government to put up signs detailing the rights of employees with disabilities, as well as provide reasonable accommodations where required under the ADA. Id. at 7.

         4. Mr. DiJiacomo confirmed the settlement parameters with Ms. Kendrell in an email dated October 17, 2017. Id. 15-16; Gov't Ex. 1. The email stated,

[Y]ou provided us authorization to settle this matter, to obtain the best possible settlement in our professional judgment that would include a provision requiring [the Government] to publicize at its offices (as an appropriate signage) that individuals with mental health disabilities have a right to accommodations along with contact information for the appropriate office, and that would also compensate us for our attorney fees.

Tr. 5/15/2018, 16; Gov't Ex. 1.

         5. Mr. DiJiacomo opened settlement discussions with the Government by sending an email to opposing counsel, Assistant United States Attorney Scott Reid (“AUSA Reid”), on October 18, 2017, detailing Ms. Kendrell's framework. Tr. 5/15/2018, 18-20; Gov't Ex. 2.

         6. Mr. DiJiacomo had a subsequent phone call with Ms. Kendrell where she confirmed authorization to settle the matter and mentioned an additional interest in contacting the Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”) to request that they investigate why her son had not received reasonable accommodations themselves. Tr. 5/15/2018, 23. Following this phone call, Mr. DiJiacomo confirmed, in an email dated November 13, 2017, that Ms. Kendrell had provided “authorization to settle this matter with [the Government] in exchange for $5, 000 in attorney's fees and [the Government] placing signs throughout its offices clearly stating that employees with mental health disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations, along with appropriate information for assistance.” Gov't Ex. 4, at 1. The email also included a reference to Ms. Kendrell's desire to pursue information regarding the Government's failure to provide reasonable accommodations to her son through OPM. Id.

         7. Ms. Kendrell emailed Mr. DiJiacomo on November 18, 2017 regarding a proposed settlement offer:

I don't understand how this happened. When you asked me if I would accept $25, 000 or changes, of the two, I said changes. However, after giving it a little thought, I text[ed] you and said why not both? Then I researched more and found out more information. So no, I will only accept this if I don't have another choice. . . . If I have to accept this offer, can I remove the complaint and refile a new one? This offer doesn't do anything. By law they had to already have this information given to [persons] with disabilit[ies]. So they aren't being held accountable for their illegal actions that destroyed my son.

Tr. 5/15/2018, 26; Gov't Ex. 4, at 2.

         8. In a subsequent email dated November 20, 2017, Ms. Kendrell refused a request to schedule a phone call with Mr. DiJiacomo on the grounds that she “totally disagree[d] with [his] offer” and that she would no longer work with him. Tr. 5/15/2018, 27-28; Gov't Ex. 4, at 3.

         9. Mr. DiJiacomo forwarded Ms. Kendrell's email to Mr. Weisberg. Tr. 5/15/2018, 27-28. Mr. Weisberg scheduled an in-person meeting with Ms. Kendrell. Id. at 28-29. Mr. DiJiacomo did not communicate with Ms. Kendrell again until February 2018. Id. at 31.

         10. On February 22, 2018, Mr. Weisberg sent Ms. Kendrell an email asking for her authority to withdraw her claim in her separate legal malpractice matter that Weisberg Law was handling on her behalf and her authority to settle this present case against the Government “for whatever [they could] get.” Id. at 45. It was Mr. Weisberg's opinion that neither of her cases would produce a favorable result. Id.; Gov't Ex. 6, at 1.

         11. Ms. Kendrell replied, “That's fine . . . . That's the main thing [I] always wanted[, for] them [to be held] accountable for the lack of [reasonable accommodations given to Anthony Kendrell]. [I] will pursue it through OPM as soon as [you] tell me [I] can.” Tr. 5/15/18; 46; Gov't Ex. 6, at 1. A brief email exchange ensued where Ms. Kendrell asked Mr. Weisberg for a “box of information” [containing discovery conducted thus far in ...

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