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Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC v. Centanne

October 25, 2010

COLDWELL BANKER REAL ESTATE LLC
v.
MICHAEL CENTANNE, ET AL.



Name of Assigned Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr. Sitting Judge if Other or Magistrate Judge than Assigned Judge

DOCKET ENTRY TEXT

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC's motion to enforce settlement agreement [31]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion [31] to enforce the settlement agreement. At this time, the Court declines to sanction Defendant Centanne for the costs incurred by Plaintiff in bringing the present motion, but cautions Defendant Centanne that further attempts to invalidate the binding settlement agreement entered into by Centanne on July 29, 2010, may result in sanctions. The Court will enter the parties' proposed order for injunctive relief by separate minute entry.

O[ For further details see text below.] Docketing to mail notices. Notices mailed by Judicial staff.

STATEMENT

I. Factual Background

On April 14, 2010, Plaintiff Coldwell Banker filed a complaint against Defendants Michael Centanne and Stanmeyer Realtors alleging trademark infringement and other causes of action based upon their use of various trademarks, service marks, designs, logos, colors, color patterns, and business methods for use in the promotion of services, products, programs, and marketing, which are owned by Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC and are on the principal register of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (the "Coldwell Banker marks"). On April 20, 2010, Plaintiff filed a motion for preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin Defendants from further infringing upon the Coldwell Banker marks. Defendants were served with the complaint and the motion for preliminary injunction. Defendants failed to answer or otherwise plead within the proscribed time, and Plaintiff filed a motion for the entry of default on June 7, 2010.

On June 15, 2010, individual Defendant Centanne, in a pro se capacity, answered the complaint for himself and attempted to answer for Defendant Stanmeyer Realtors. At the hearing held before this Court on June 15, 2010, and in its subsequent order of the same date, the Court noted that "a corporation may appear in the federal courts only through licensed counsel." Rowland v. Cal. Men's Colony, Unit II Men's Advisory Council, 506 U.S. 194, 201-02 (1993). Accordingly, the Court rejected Centanne's answer on behalf of Stanmeyer Realtors and took the motion for entry of default under advisement. The Court gave Defendant Stanmeyer Realtors one month to retain counsel and until July 29, 2010, to answer or otherwise plead, both of which Defendant Stanmeyer failed to do. Instead, on July 20, 2010, Defendant Centanne filed a Motion for a Settlement Conference [25].

STATEMENT

On July 29, 2010, the parties appeared before the Court, and, after indicating to the Court on the record that they were close to settling the case, were invited to discuss settlement further in a room provided by the Court. At approximately 10:00 a.m. on July 29, 2010, the parties notified the Court that they had negotiated a settlement. The parties memorialized the settlement in a written settlement agreement, two copies of which were executed by Defendant Centanne and counsel for Plaintiff before a witness, attorney Chance L. Cooper of Gordon & Rees LLP, with each party retaining a copy of the signed agreement. In conjunction with their execution of the settlement agreement, the parties agreed to and executed an agreed order regarding injunctive relief, a copy of which was provided to the Court's deputy on July 29, 2010, when the parties confirmed that the case was resolved. The Court's minute order of July 29, 2010, noted that the parties had reported that they had come to an agreement on the remaining terms and that the Court would review the proposed order. Before the Court had a chance to review the proposed order, on July 30, 2010, Defendant Centanne contacted opposing counsel and the Court's deputy and advised first that he wanted the agreed order filed under seal and later that he was withdrawing his agreement to the proposed order. Based on these representations, the Court set the matter for a status hearing on August 16. The hearing was rescheduled for August 24, 2010.

Prior to the status hearing, on August 4, 2010, Defendant Centanne took action in furtherance of the settlement agreement, including paying for the removal of a "Coldwell Banker Stanmeyer Realtors" canopy at Defendants' place of business. In accordance with the agreement between the parties, Plaintiff provided Defendant Centanne with a check in the amount of $165.00 to reimburse him for the costs incurred in removing the sign.

On August 24, 2010, the parties appeared before the Court regarding the language of the order and any dismissal. At the hearing, Defendant Centanne contested the validity of the settlement agreement and indicated a desire to take the case forward with counterclaims. Plaintiff insisted that a valid settlement agreement existed. The Court gave Plaintiff leave to file a motion to enforce settlement agreement and provided the parties with a briefing schedule on the motion.

II. Analysis

A district court possesses the inherent or equitable power summarily to enforce an agreement to settle a case pending before it. See Wilson v. Wilson, 46 F.3d 660, 664 (7th Cir. 1995). Settlement agreements -- whether they are oral or written -- are contracts, and their construction and enforcement are thus governed by basic contract principles. Gutta v. Standard Select Trust Insurance Plans, 530 F.3d 614, 617 (7th Cir. 2008); Wilson v. Wilson, 46 F.3d 660, 666 (7th Cir. 1995); Laserage Tech. Corp. v. Laserage Laboratories Inc., 972 F.2d 799, 802 (7th Cir. 1992). In determining whether the parties reached an enforceable agreement, the Court applies state contract law -- in this case, that of Illinois. Dillard v. Starcon International, Inc., 483 F.3d 502, 507 (7th Cir. 2007); Pohl v. United Airlines, Inc., 213 F.3d 336, 338 (7th Cir. 2000) ("Issues regarding the formation, construction, and enforceability of a settlement agreement are governed by local contract law.").

In Illinois, ordinary contract construction rules apply to a settlement agreement. Id. For a contract to be enforceable in Illinois, "the essential terms of the contract must be definite and certain," and the contract "must include a meeting of the minds or mutual assent as to the terms of the contract." Quinlan v. Stouffe, 823 N.E.2d 597, 603 (2005). The interpretation of an agreement is governed by the parties objective expressions of intent. Hampton v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.3d 709, 714 (7th Cir. 2009). "Secret hopes and wishes count for nothing because the status of a document as a contract depends on what the parties express to each other and to the world, not on what they keep to themselves." See Newkirk v. Village of Steger,536 F.3d 771, 774 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Skycom Corp. v. Telestar Corp., 813 F.2d 810, 814-15 (7th Cir. 1987). Whether there is "meeting of the minds" turns on an objective appraisal of the parties' conduct, not their subjective beliefs. Paxton-Buckley-Loda Educ. Ass'n v. Ill. Educ. Labor Relations Bd., 710 N.E.2d 538 (Ill. App. Ct. 4th Dist. 1999). We do not "take ...


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