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Maxey v. Monahan

March 20, 2007

BRIAN MAXEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THOMAS MONAHAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Brian Maxey ("Maxey"), a civil detainee held at a state facility, originally brought this 42 U.S.C. §1983 ("Section 1983") action pro se, seeking relief against multiple defendants. Those defendants who are relevant to the current motion are Carol Vance, Jovita Anyanwu and Addus HealthCare, Inc. (for convenience collectively "Addus," treated as a singular noun). After this Court appointed Jason Burlingame ("Burlingame") to represent Maxey, Burlingame engaged in settlement negotiations with Addus' counsel Eydie Glassman ("Glassman").

Maxey now brings a motion to enforce a settlement agreement assertedly reached with Addus through their respective counsel, while Addus denies the existence of any such agreement. Both sides have agreed that the motion and any disputed facts may be decided by this Court on the briefs and supporting papers without the need for a jury or evidentiary hearing, so that this Court may make factual findings as well as reaching conclusions of law.*fn1 For the reasons set out in this memorandum opinion and order, Maxey's motion is granted.

Background

As to the underlying substance of this action, Maxey alleges that Addus has violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights (more specifically, the Eighth Amendment's guaranties incorporated via the Fourteenth) by denying him access to an ear, nose and throat specialist ("Specialist") and to related care with deliberate indifference to a medical problem assertedly affecting Maxey's ear, causing him long term pain and suffering. Beginning in January 2007*fn2 Burlingame and Glassman undertook potential settlement discussions on behalf of their clients (B. Aff. ¶3), and it is the ultimate result of those discussions that is now at issue.

In general the discussions centered around Addus committing to provide Maxey a consultation with an outside Specialist to examine his ears and to determine whether there is indeed any medical condition that requires treatment beyond what Addus had already afforded him (see, e.g., M. Mem. Ex. 5). That arrangement and the consequences of the Specialist's examination are spelled out in Burlingame's Affidavit attached as Exhibit A to Maxey's motion (B. Aff. ¶¶6-7), which this Court credits as an accurate version of Addus' February 5 settlement offer:

6. Ms. Glassman spoke with me by telephone on Monday, February 5, 2007. Ms. Glassman stated that she had spoken with her clients, who had agreed to allow Maxey to be treated by a Ear, Nose and Throat specialist of his choice in exchange for Maxey's agreement that he dismiss the lawsuit against Addus if the ENT specialist determined there was nothing wrong with his ears. Ms. Glassman further stated that in the event that the ENT specialist diagnosed a problem with Maxey's ear(s) and proposed an alternative treatment, Addus further agreed to follow the recommended course of treatment and the lawsuit would continue.

7. I specifically reiterated the point that Maxey would not be required to dismiss his lawsuit under the terms of the settlement if the ENT specialist diagnosed a problem with Maxey's ear(s). Ms. Glassman affirmed my understanding of the Addus settlement proposal, stating that Addus was confident that the ENT specialist would not find anything wrong with Maxey's ear(s) and, on the off chance that the ENT specialist diagnosed a problem with Maxey's ear(s), it would only take a simple motion for summary judgment to get Addus out of the case.

On February 12 Glassman responded to Burlingame's confirmation of Maxey's having accepted that offer with an e-mail notifying him that Addus was not prepared to settle and that the parties should instead move forward with discovery (M. Mem. Ex. 8). But Maxey contends that repudiation came too late because Burlingame had already accepted Addus' February 5 offer, creating an enforceable settlement agreement. Addus retorts by asserting that there had never been a meeting of the minds between counsel as to all the material terms of the agreement and, more fundamentally, that the settlement conversations were merely preliminary discussions between counsel that Glassman had not yet presented to Addus for agreement.

Purported Settlement Agreement

It should be said at the outset that because the current motion is advanced in the context of a pending action (and is not a post-dismissal effort to enforce a settlement that had led to such dismissal), no Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375 (1994) problems are presented -- this Court unquestionably has jurisdiction to decide this matter (Wilson v. Wilson, 46 F.3d 660, 664 (7th Cir. 1995)). As for the applicable rules of decision, Abbott Laboratories v. Alpha Therapeutic Corp., 164 F.3d 385, 387 (7th Cir. 1999) teaches:

Local contract law governs the construction and enforcement of settlement agreements.*fn3 In Illinois -- the source of "local contract law" here -- a settlement agreement may be created by a formal writing or the exchange of informal writings or through oral statements in or out of court (see, e.g., id. at 388-89 and Wilson, 46 F.3d at 666, both applying Illinois law; Pritchett v. Asbestos Claims Mgmt. Corp., 332 Ill.App.3d 890, 896, 773 N.E.2d 1277, 1282 (5th Dist. 2002)). In all events there must be an offer and acceptance that evidence a meeting of the minds reflecting an understanding "so definite with respect to its material terms that the promises and performances to be rendered by each party are reasonably certain" (Pritchett, 332 Ill.App.3d at 896, 773 N.E.2d at 1282; accord, Midland Hotel Corp. v. Reuben H. Donnelley Corp., 118 Ill.2d 306, 313-14, 515 N.E.2d 61, 65 (1987)). Importantly, the parties need not "share the same subjective understanding as to the terms of the contract" --instead it suffices that their conduct and words objectively demonstrate their assent to those terms (Midland Hotel, id. at 313-14, 515 N.E.2d at 65).

Thus, in a return to Contracts 101 in first-year law school, this Court must initially identify the offer and the acceptance that make up the asserted settlement agreement.*fn4 For that purpose the starting point is of course the settlement offer proposed by Addus through Glassman in her February 5 telephone conversation with Burlingame, as spelled out in the earlier quotation of his Aff. ¶¶6-7.

Then after consulting with his client, Burlingame e-mailed Glassman on February 12 to accept Addus' offer on Maxey's behalf, again memorializing ...


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