United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
PATRICIAL L. DODGE, JUDGE
pending before the Court is Defendant William Short's
Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement. (ECF No. 39). For the
reasons stated herein, Defendant Short's Motion will be
granted in part and denied in part.
Relevant Procedural History
action was commenced in November of 2018 by Plaintiff Tammy
Aikins in which she alleged, among other things, a violation
of her freedom of speech rights under the First Amendment of
the United States Constitution against Defendant Short, the
Superintendent of the Gateway School District. (ECF No. 1).
parties participated in an early neutral evaluation
("ENE") before a neutral, Maria Danaher, on June
13, 2019, at which time they agreed to a settlement in
principle and signed a handwritten document that included the
basic terms of their agreement. (ECF No. 25; Second Motion to
Enforce, ¶¶ 3-4). Subsequently, after Ms. Aikins
disputed the terms of a more formal written settlement
agreement prepared by Defendant, Defendant filed a Motion to
Enforce Settlement Agreement. (ECF No. 27). After a telephone
conference with the parties, the Court directed the parties
to return to mediation with Ms. Danaher. (ECF No. 35). On
August 8, 2019, Ms. Danaher filed a report of mediation which
indicated that the lawsuit had been resolved. (ECF No. 36).
thereafter, on August 21, 2019, Defendant filed a second
Motion to Enforce Settlement (the "Second Motion to
Enforce") (ECF No. 39) which is the subject of this
Opinion. Ms. Aikins filed a response to the Second Motion to
Enforce (ECF No. 47) and immediately thereafter, Plaintiffs
counsel, Jennifer Price, filed a Motion to Withdraw as
Attorney ("Motion to Withdraw"). (ECF No. 48).
hearing was held on September 5, 2019, at which counsel for
both parties as well as Ms. Aikins were present. Oral
argument took place regarding the Motion to Withdraw and
after giving Ms. Aikins an opportunity to state her
objections to her counsel's withdrawal, the Court granted
Ms. Price's Motion to Withdraw. Ms. Aikins was then
provided with the option of either obtaining a continuance of
the hearing regarding the Second Motion to Enforce so that
she had sufficient time to secure new counsel and/or
otherwise prepare for a hearing, or to proceed with the
hearing. After being given multiple opportunities to consider
how she wished to proceed, including consulting with her
husband who was present in the courtroom, Ms. Aikins elected
to proceed with the hearing.
hearing on the Second Motion to Enforce was then conducted
during which both Ms. Price and Ms. Aikins testified. Both
parties also presented oral argument.
to the Second Motion to Enforce, the parties reached a
settlement at the ENE and signed a handwritten document which
set forth the basic terms of the settlement. (Second Motion to
Enforce, ¶¶ 3-4). During the ENE, the parties
discussed that a formal agreement would need to be signed.
(September 5, 2019 Hearing Transcript ("Tr."), at
formal settlement agreement was subsequently prepared by
counsel for Defendant. A dispute arose over the meaning and
breadth of a term as used in the first sentence of Paragraph
5 of the draft agreement. This term had also been used in the
handwritten document prepared at the ENE. For a variety of
stated reasons, including the issue of how the disputed term
was defined and Plaintiffs claims that the formal agreement
"looked different" than the handwritten version and
that her computer was broken, Ms. Aikins refused to sign the
formal agreement. (Defendant's Reply to Plaintiffs
Response to Motion to Enforce Settlement (ECF No. 33), at 2
("Reply"); Tr., at 2-3). She also attempted to make
changes to the settlement agreement by crossing out a number
of the paragraphs, including those related to a release of
all claims. (Reply, at 2-3).
they were ordered by this Court to return to mediation, but
before the mediation took place, Jennifer Price, Plaintiffs
counsel, advised counsel for the Defendant that Ms. Aikins
would sign the previously supplied written agreement as long
as an additional provision was added. (Second Motion to
Enforce, ¶ 10; Tr., at 4-5, 18-19). Defendant agreed and
sent an updated draft of the settlement agreement to
Plaintiffs counsel on August 2, 2019. (Second Motion to
Enforce, ¶ 11; Tr., at 15). In addition to adding Ms.
Aikins' requested provision in a second sentence in
Paragraph 5, Defendant also made a modification to the
language in the first sentence of Paragraph 5. (Tr., at 15).
Motion to Withdraw that was filed after the Second Motion to
Enforce, Ms. Price states that she reviewed the August 2,
2019 revised version of the settlement agreement, including
both changes to Paragraph 5, with Ms. Aikins, including a
line by line review, and that Ms. Aikins orally agreed to ...