United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
August 18, 2005.
JACKIE WILSON, Plaintiff,
GEORGE DETELLA, LUTHER MANNING, CLARENCE WRIGHT, SHELLY HORNE, CHRISTOPHER LITHEL, ANDRE MILES, ROBERT GRIFFIN, VERNON JAMES, SCOTT CARTER, WALTER BROWN, STEPHEN WILLIAMS, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RONALD GUZMAN, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the Court is defendants' Motion to Enforce Settlement
Agreement. Defendants request that this Court enforce the oral
settlement agreement reached with plaintiff Jackie Wilson in open
court and dismiss this case with prejudice. For the reasons
provided in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court denies
This case arose from a complaint filed by plaintiff on November
7, 1997. The pro se plaintiff, a state prisoner, sued
defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his
constitutional rights. Plaintiff claims that defendants, officers
at the Stateville Correctional Center, "violated the plaintiff's
constitutional rights by using excessive force against him and by
acting with deliberate indifference to his medical needs."
Wilson v. DeTella, No. 97 C 7833, 1999 WL 1000502, at *1 (N.D.
Ill. Nov. 1, 1999). In particular, plaintiff claims that "the defendants repeatedly maced and assaulted him for no reason, then
delayed access to needed medical care." Id. On November 1,
1999, the Honorable Wayne R. Andersen dismissed plaintiff's
complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6):
(a) as to any conditions claim, (b) as to George DeTella, who was
terminated as a defendant, and (c) insofar as the defendants are
sued in their official capacities. Id. at *7. Plaintiff was
allowed to proceed against the remaining defendants only in their
individual capacities and only as to his excessive force and
medical claims. Id.
On November 20, 2002, a jury trial was to begin in this case.
However, the parties reached a settlement agreement in open
court. The oral settlement agreement provided for the following
1. Monetary payment. The Department of Corrections
("Department") agrees to put $200.00 into Wilson's trust fund
account. (11/20/02 Tr. at 3, lines 17-18.)
2. Purchase of audio-visual equipment. The Department agrees
to allow Wilson to purchase from any outside vendor audio-visual
equipment, a cassette player, that will meet their security
criteria, namely that it is clear and plastic. (Id. at 3, lines
3. Audio-visual restrictions. The Department agrees to lift
Wilson's audio-visual restrictions so he has the ability to use
the equipment as soon as it is delivered. (Id. at 3-4, lines
4. Attorney's fees. Parties agree to waive attorney's fees.
(Id. at 4, lines 4-5.)
5. Non-disclosure of settlement. Wilson agrees not to
disclose the terms of the settlement agreement to other inmates.
(Id. at 4, lines 5-7.)
6. Non-disclosure of prior discipline. The parties agree to
not disclose any prior discipline of Luther Manning. This was
already the subject of a protective order and pertained to the non-disclosure of the details to plaintiff. (Id. at 4,
The terms of the oral settlement agreement were incorporated by
reference into the Court's Order entered on November 22, 2002 and
the Court retained jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the
settlement agreement. (Minute Order of 11/22/02.) The jury trial
was terminated and the complaint was dismissed with prejudice.
Plaintiff claims that defendants have refused to honor the
terms of the oral settlement agreement that was made in open
court on November 20, 2002. On December 24, 2003, plaintiff,
although represented by counsel, filed pro se motions to
enforce the settlement agreement (Pl.'s Mot. Enforce Settlement
Agreement at 1) and to reopen this case and set a date for trial
(Pl.'s Mot. Reopen Case at 1). The Court took plaintiff's motions
under advisement while recognizing that the motions were
inconsistent as to the relief sought enforcement of the
settlement agreement versus rescission and reinstatement of the
case. (Min. Order of 1/5/04.)
On January 28, 2004, defendants responded to plaintiff's
self-titled motions to enforce judgment and reopen the case.
(Defs.' Resp. Pl.'s Mot. Enforce J. & Reopen Case at 1.)
Defendants contend that the settlement agreement was sent from
the Office of the Illinois Attorney General to plaintiff's
attorney for execution. (Id.) Defendants argue that the
settlement documents were never returned to the Office of the
Attorney General for processing, and therefore defendants were
unable to begin the procedure for honoring the terms of the
settlement. (Id. at 1-2.)
Defendants then filed the instant motion to enforce the oral
settlement agreement reached. (Defs.' Mot. Enforce Settlement
Agreement at 1.) In their motion, defendants assert in pertinent
part that: (1) a settlement agreement was reached by the parties
on November 20, 2002, and the terms were agreed to and stated on
the record in open court, (2) the terms of the settlement agreement were not time sensitive; and (3) the actual
settlement agreement was never signed by plaintiff and
accordingly, no signed agreement was received by counsel for
"A motion to enforce a settlement agreement is essentially the
same as a motion to enforce a contract." Allstate Fin. Corp. v.
Util. Trailer of Ill., Inc., 936 F. Supp. 525, 528 (N.D. Ill.
1996); see Hyde Park Union Church v. Curry, 942 F. Supp. 360,
363 (N.D. Ill. 1996) (stating that a contract analysis must occur
to determine whether a contract to settle was formed); Schaap v.
Executive Indus., Inc., 760 F. Supp. 725, 726 (N.D. Ill. 1991)
(stating that a court must find the traditional elements of a
contract before it will enforce a settlement agreement). Because
a settlement agreement is a contract, state contract law governs
its construction and enforcement. Laserage Tech. Corp. v.
Laserage Labs. Inc., 972 F.2d 799, 802 (7th Cir. 1992); see
Pohl v. United Airlines, Inc., 213 F.3d 336, 338 (7th Cir.
2000); Abbott Labs. v. Alpha Therapeutic Corp., 164 F.3d 385,
387 (7th Cir. 1999).
Oral settlement agreements made in open court and on the record
are enforceable by a district court. Wilson v. Wilson,
46 F.3d 660, 667 (7th Cir. 1995); Hyde Park Union Church,
942 F. Supp. at 363. Illinois law provides that an oral settlement agreement
is enforceable as long as the record clearly shows an offer,
acceptance and mutual assent or meeting of the minds as to the
terms of the agreement. Wilson, 46 F.3d at 666. Notably, "oral
agreements are enforceable even if the terms have not yet been
reduced to writing." Hyde Park Union Church,
942 F. Supp. at 363. The oral agreement is still enforceable even if the parties
to an oral settlement agreement anticipate a formal written
document and one is never created or finalized. Dawson v. Gen. Motors Corp., 977 F.2d 369, 374 (7th Cir. 1992). However,
"[w]here the reduction of an agreement to writing and its formal
execution is objectively intended by the parties as a condition
precedent to its completion, there can be no contract until then,
even if the actual terms have been agreed upon." Trendmasters,
Inc. v. Walgreen Co., No. 95 C 5379, 1996 WL 422273, at *2 (N.D.
Ill. July 24, 1996).
Illinois law holds that "a binding agreement requires a meeting
of the minds or mutual assent as to all material terms." Abbott
Labs., 164 F.3d at 387; see Hyde Park, 942 F. Supp. at 363
(stating that district courts may enforce settlement agreements
only if the parties have reached agreement on all material terms)
(citation omitted). Thus, "[a] contract may be enforced even
though some contract terms may be missing or left to be agreed
upon, but if the essential terms are so uncertain that there is
no basis for deciding whether the agreement has been kept or
broken, there is no contract." Acad. Chi. Publishers v.
Cheever, 578 N.E.2d 981, 984 (Ill. 1991).
Several factors affect whether a court will enforce an oral
settlement agreement. First, there can be no issue of fact as to
whether an agreement was reached. DeBose v. Mueller,
552 F. Supp. 307, 308 (N.D. Ill. 1982). Second, the oral agreement is
not enforceable if the parties conditioned it on their acceptance
of a written agreement. Taylor v. Gordon Flesch Co., Inc.,
793 F.2d 858, 862 (7th Cir. 1986). Finally, all necessary elements of
an enforceable contract must be present. Wilson,
46 F.3d at 666. Each factor will be discussed below.
A. Was an Agreement Reached?
Defendants argue that this case was settled on the terms
announced and agreed to in open court. (Defs.' Mot. Enforce
Settlement Agreement at 1.) Plaintiff, in response, asserts that
two years have passed since the parties entered into this
purported settlement agreement and the defendants have done nothing to meet their obligations. (Pl.'s
Resp. Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Enforce Settlement Agreement at 1.) Thus,
plaintiff argues that he has lost any benefit he would have
enjoyed from the settlement agreement. (Id. at 2.) In short,
plaintiff no longer accepts the terms of the settlement agreement
and wants the court to reopen the case. (Id. at 4.)
The Court has the power to enforce an oral settlement
agreement, unless there is a material dispute as to whether an
agreement was reached. DeBose, 552 F. Supp. at 307. However,
when a settlement agreement is reached in open court, then it is
not an issue as to whether an agreement was reached because the
court is fully aware of the terms of the agreement and whether
the parties agreed to them. See Herron v. City of Chi.,
618 F. Supp. 1405, 1407, 1409 (N.D. Ill. 1985) (explaining that the
parties agreed to the settlement agreement and it was "understood
by the Court (which participated in settlement discussions) to be
a final and complete resolution of the entire case.")
Here, the record clearly shows that a settlement agreement was
reached between the parties on November 20, 2002 in open court.
(11/20/02 Tr. at 7, lines 2-5.) The following is an excerpt of
the agreement reached in open court in pertinent part:
MS. ABDEL-KHALIK (attorney for plaintiff): The
terms of the settlement are that the Department will
put $200 into [plaintiff's] trust fund account and
will allow him to purchase from any outside vendor
audio visual equipment, a cassette player, that will
meet their security criteria, namely, as we
understand it, that it's clear.
MS. MARSALEK (attorney for defendants): And
MS. ABDEL-KHALIK: And plastic. We will be helping
[plaintiff] find the audio-visual equipment to meet
that criteria. And would also have a lifting of his
audio-visual restrictions so [plaintiff] would have
the ability to use that equipment as soon as it's
MS. MARSALEK: And, Judge, the other terms would be
that there would be a waiver of attorney's fees and
also there would be a nondisclosure settlement agreement from Mr. Wilson to other inmates, and there
would also be a nondisclosure of any prior discipline
of Luther Manning.
MS. ABDEL-KHALIK: The last term already being the
subject of a protective order in front of this court.
THE COURT: Nondisclosure agreement, and what was
the last part, nondisclosure of what?
MS. MARSALEK: The prior discipline of Luther
THE COURT: What does that mean, nondisclosure?
MS. ABDEL-KHALIK: He is not to know about it. We
have only mentioned that there are some, we haven't
given him any details, and there will be no
disclosure of that.
THE COURT: Does the defense agree to this?
MS. MARSALEK: Yes.
THE COURT: Mr. Wilson.
MR. WILSON: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: Did you hear the terms of the
MR. WILSON: I'm not too particularly fond of them,
but yes, I'll agree to it.
THE COURT: Okay. You agree to those terms?
MR. WILSON: Yes.
THE COURT: You understand that by saying so that
means they're binding, that's it, it's the end of the
MR. WILSON: Understood.
(11/20/02 Tr. at 7.)
Accordingly, having reviewed the parties' statements in open
court, the Court finds that the parties reached a settlement
agreement on November 20, 2002 when the terms of the settlement
agreement were announced and agreed to in open court. B. Was the Settlement Agreement Conditioned on a Writing?
An oral settlement agreement may be enforced by district
courts. Taylor, 793 F.2d at 862. However, an oral agreement may
not be enforced if the parties expressly agreed that there would
be a writing before the settlement could be deemed final. Id.
(citing Lambert Corp. v. Evans, 575 F.2d 132 (7th Cir. 1978)).
At the hearing on November 20, 2002, there was no discussion
regarding whether the settlement document needed to be signed
prior to defendants' performance of their obligations under the
settlement agreement. Because there was no such discussion, the
Court holds that there was no agreement as to this purported
term, and defendants' argument that they were waiting for
Wilson's signature in order to perform their obligations under
the settlement agreement is unavailing. There was no need for
plaintiff to sign any written settlement agreement because the
parties never made that a condition to the enforcement of the
oral settlement agreement reached in open court. Accordingly, the
Court concludes that the parties did not make a written and
signed settlement agreement a condition precedent to an
C. Whether an Enforceable Agreement Was Reached
Defendants contend that this case was settled on the terms
announced and agreed to in open court. (Defs.' Mot. Enforce
Settlement Agreement at 1.) Plaintiff argues there was no meeting
of the minds and therefore the settlement agreement is
unenforceable. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Enforce Settlement
Agreement at 3.) Plaintiff asserts that defendants' conduct and
admission in their motion demonstrate that they did not believe
timely performance of the settlement agreement was a material
term. (Id.) Plaintiff contends that timely performance was an implied material term of the settlement
agreement and was under the belief that performance by defendants
would take place within reasonable time after November 20, 2002.
It is well settled in Illinois that where a contract does not
specify a time for performance, a reasonable time for performance
is implied. Nelson v. Sotheby's, Inc., 128 F. Supp. 2d 1172,
1176 (N.D. Ill. 2001). A reasonable time for performance is a
matter of proof under the circumstances and conditions of each
particular case. J.J. Brown Co., Inc. v. J.L. Simmons Co.,
Inc., 118 N.E.2d 781, 784-85 (Ill.App.Ct. 1954). When we look
to the circumstances surrounding the settlement agreement reached
in open court on November 20, 2002, the parties were silent as to
when performance would take place. Thus, a reasonable time for
performance is implied here.
Plaintiff argues that there was no meeting of the minds as to
timely performance because defendants admitted that performance
is not required within a reasonable amount of time. (Pl.'s Resp.
Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Enforce Settlement Agreement at 3.) Defendants
stated in their own motion that they "disagree with plaintiff's
assertion that the terms of the settlement agreement were time
sensitive in any way, but that is of no import." (Defs.' Mot.
Enforce Settlement Agreement at 2.) Plaintiff also argues that
there was no meeting of minds because defendants never complied
with the terms of the oral settlement agreement, and therefore,
this is evidence that defendants did not believe timely
performance was an implied term of the agreement which is
contrary to plaintiff's belief. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n Defs.' Mot.
Enforce Settlement Agreement at 3-4.) Plaintiff is correct that
reasonable time for performance is an implied term here. However,
plaintiff's argument that there was no meeting of the minds is
incorrect because it only relies on defendants' conduct after an
agreement was reached. M.T. Bonk Co. v. Milton Bradley Co., 945 F.2d 1404, 1407 (7th Cir. 1991) (explaining that the court will
enforce an oral contract if the parties have a meeting of the
minds regarding the terms of the agreement and intend to be bound
by the oral agreement). Whether a meeting of the minds occurred
is judged at the time of the alleged agreement, not weeks or
months later. See Martin v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.,
808 N.E.2d 47, 55 (Ill.App.Ct. 2004).
Defendants' objective conduct at the time the parties reached
an oral settlement agreement in open court demonstrates that they
believed timely performance was an implied term of the settlement
agreement. Apparently, plaintiff was under audio-visual
restrictions that were scheduled to remain in effect until
February 2003. (Joint Comparison Oral & Written Settlement
Agreement at 3.) Based on the oral settlement agreement,
defendants agreed to lift plaintiff's audio-visual restrictions
so plaintiff would have the ability to use the equipment as soon
as it was delivered. (11/20/02 Tr. at 3-4, lines 1-3, 25.) Given
the temporal limitation of plaintiff's audio-visual restriction
and defendants' agreement to place $200.00 in plaintiff's account
to enable him to purchase clear plastic cassette player and
defendants' agreement to lift the restriction when such equipment
was delivered to plaintiff, it seems clear that the parties
agreed that performance would occur before February 2003.
D. Defendant Breached an Enforceable Settlement Agreement
Defendants have had more than two years to honor the terms of
the oral settlement agreement, but to date, they have failed to
do so. Defendants maintain that they are ready, willing, and able
to perform the terms of the oral settlement agreement as soon as
plaintiff signs the written settlement agreement. (Defs.' Reply
Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Enforce Settlement Agreement at 2.)
As discussed above, defendants failed to make a signed, written settlement agreement a condition precedent to the enforcement of
the oral settlement agreement. Thus, the oral settlement
agreement was enforceable as soon as it was reached in open
court. Taylor, 793 F.2d at 862.
Defendants' nonperformance of their obligations has resulted in
plaintiff being robbed of the essential benefits of the oral
settlement agreement. Accordingly, the Court finds that the
defendants are in direct breach of the oral settlement agreement.
For the foregoing reasons, this Court denies defendants' Motion
to Enforce Settlement Agreement [doc. no. 151]. Defendants
breached the enforceable oral settlement agreement entered in
open court on November 20, 2002. Parties shall be prepared to
discuss a trial date at the next status hearing.
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