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Merritt v. Faulkner

decided: July 13, 1987.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Fort Wayne Division. No. 80 C 207-William C. Lee, Judge.

Before Cummings, Cudahy and Posner, Circuit Judges.

Per Curiam. This appeal involves a challenge to the validity of a settlement of an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 (1982). The district court found that the settlement agreement was valid and enforceable and that neither party had breached the agreement. We affirm.


The plaintiff, Billy Merritt, brought a section 1983 suit alleging that certain prison officials acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical problems while he was an inmate at Indiana State Prison. Merritt initially brought this suit pro se, but this court on an earlier appeal held that Merritt had the right to a court-appointed lawyer. Merritt v. Faulkner, 697 F.2d 761 (7th Cir. 1983). Because the facts are set forth in that first appeal, we will repeat them here only to the extent necessary to evaluate the enforceability of the settlement agreement.

In July 1978, Merritt injured his left eye and complained of blurred vision to the officials of the Indiana State Prison where Merritt was an inmate. Several prison physicians examined Merritt, including the prison opthalmologist who discovered a vitreous hemorrhage in Merritt's left eye. Approximately one month later, Merritt was diagnosed as having sickle cell disease, which the prison opthalmologist believed was related to Merritt's eye condition. Approximately six months after the injury, Merritt was sent to an Indianapolis hospital for treatment of his left eye. The surgeons at the hospital performed a vitrectomy (an operation to remove fluid from the eye) on the right eye, even though there were apparently no medical problems with that eye. Merritt alleges that subsequently the vision in his right eye deteriorated and he became functionally blind in both eyes.

The district court held a status conference on August 20, 1985 which was attended by Merritt, has counsel Ernest Beal, and counsel for the state defendants. At that conference the parties informed the court that they had reached an agreement whereby the case could be settled. Beal described the agreement to the court as follows:

Working under permission given to me by the client-my client, Mr. Merritt, the State and I have made some agreements which, I believe, are acceptable to my client which he believe will resolve the case.

One of the things that the State has agreed to do-and which I believe to be a very important part of the care and treatment for Mr. Merritt-is to make arrangements for the development of a treatment plan to deal with the current state of his visual condition and to deal with the future course of care.

We have talked among ourselves that the arrangements for the timetable for developing such a treatment plan ought to be something like 45 days from this date. We have talked about who should provide the direction for the development of that treatment plan, and the State has agreed to allow the University of Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary, which performed the evaluation, to be the equity which develops the treatment plan; and it's my understanding that the arrangements will be made for them to do so.

The development of that treatment plan may or may not involve another visit by Mr. Merritt to their facilities. If it does, it's my understanding that we, the State and the plaintiff will allow this case to remain open, allow the Court to retain jurisdiction such that an application for habeas corpus relief may be granted, essentially at the parties' consent so that Mr. Merritt may be transferred by the marshals to that facility.

I understand that if there's a cost or expense associated wit the care and treatment associated with the treatment plan, that that will be borne by the State.

It is understood that the treatment that will be required will be at the plaintiff's option, obviously. He has the right to refuse if he chooses. If he elects to have treatment provided, it is understood that it will be provided by the medical providers contracted by, supplied by the Department of Corrections.

We have asked that the treatment plan include two ingredients at a minimum. One is a provision for annual visual examinations, and the other is a provision that such emergency care as is necessary will be provided when it's necessary.

The State has indicated that both of those conditions are reasonable and acceptable.

As an additional element of the resolution, we have agreed not to pursue and, indeed, to waive any claim for attorney's fees or costs associated with the representation of the plaintiff. Obviously, the State has accepted that offer.

And I think that represents the agreement of the parties.

Merritt v. Faulkner, No. S-80-207, at 3-5 (N.D. Ind. Aug. 21, 1985)(transcript of status conference).

After confirming with counsel for the defendants that Beal's description of the agreement was accurate, the district court judge made certain that Merritt understood and agreed with the terms under which the case was being settled:

THE COURT: All right. Mr. ...

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