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Cotton v. Adams

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 14, 2017

R.D. ADAMS, et al., Defendants.


          AMY J. ST. EVE United States District Court Judge

         The Court adopts Magistrate Judge Valdez's February 23, 2017 Report and Recommendation as it relates to Defendants' motion to enforce the settlement agreement. [57]. The Court grants Defendants' motion to enforce the settlement agreement, and thus the parties' December 2016 settlement agreement is binding. Because the Magistrate Judge construed third-party Latonia Walker's February 13, 2017 motion as a response to Defendants' motion to enforce the settlement agreement, the Court denies Walker's motion as moot. [51]. Due to the enforceable settlement agreement in this matter, this case is hereby dismissed, without prejudice, with leave to reinstate by May 12, 2017 to enforce the settlement. After May 12, 2017, said dismissal will convert to a dismissal with prejudice. Status hearing remains set for March 21, 2017 at 8:30 a.m. Plaintiff is directed to appear on March 21, 2017 so his signature can be obtained on the settlement agreement. If plaintiff's signature is obtained prior to March 21, 2017, the status hearing will be stricken.


         “When a magistrate judge prepares a report and recommendation for a district court, the governing statute provides that the district court ‘shall make a de novo determination' with respect to any contested matter.” Kanter v. C.I.R, 590 F.3d 410, 416 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C)). As the Seventh Circuit explains:

De novo review requires the district judge to decide the case based on an independent review of the evidence and arguments without giving any presumptive weight to the magistrate judge's conclusion. The district judge is free, and encouraged, to consider all of the available information about the case when making this independent decision. A district judge may be persuaded by the reasoning of a magistrate judge or a special master while still engaging in an independent decision-making process.

Mendez v. Republic Bank, 725 F.3d 651, 661 (7th Cir. 2013). On the other hand, “[i]f no specific objection is made, or only a partial objection, the district court reviews the uncontested portions for clear error.” Saban v. Caremark Rx, L.L.C., 780 F.Supp.2d 700, 704 (N.D. Ill. 2011). “The magistrate judge's recommendation on a dispositive matter is not a final order, and the district judge makes the ultimate decision to adopt, reject, or modify it.” Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 760 (7th Cir. 2009); see also Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b).


         Before the Court is third-party Latonia Walker's pro se objections to Magistrate Judge Valdez's Report and Recommendation that the Court construes liberally, along with Walker's other filings in this lawsuit. See Parker v. Four Seasons Hotels, Ltd., 845 F.3d 807, 811 (7th Cir. 2017). On February 23, 2017, Judge Valdez recommended that the Court grant Defendants' motion to enforce the parties' settlement agreement. Before examining Walker's objections to the Report and Recommendation, the Court gives a brief background of this lawsuit.

         On April 22, 2016, Plaintiff Stephen Cotton, by counsel, filed a Fourth Amendment excessive force claim and state law malicious prosecution claim against certain Chicago Police Officers and the City of Chicago. On December 7, 2016, the Court referred this matter to Magistrate Judge Valdez for purposes of holding a settlement conference. On December 8, 2016, Defendants tendered their settlement offer to Plaintiff's attorney Gregory Kulis. The material terms of the settlement are that in exchange for $30, 000, Plaintiff would dismiss his lawsuit in its entirety with prejudice. Thereafter, on December 13, 2016, Mr. Kulis informed counsel for the City of Chicago that he had spoken with his client and that Plaintiff accepted Defendants' offer to settle. Also on December 13, Plaintiff's counsel advised Judge Valdez that the parties had reached a settlement agreement in principle, at which time Judge Valdez set a status hearing for January 12, 2017.

         At the January 12, 2017 status hearing, Plaintiff's counsel informed the Magistrate Judge that he had yet to obtain Plaintiff's signature on the settlement documents because he could not reach his client. In addition, Defendants' counsel did not appear at the January 12 status hearing, but instead filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement on January 13. Judge Valdez then held a motion hearing on January 26, at which time Plaintiff's mother, Latonia Walker, appeared pro se as a third-party. At that time, Walker disputed the settlement agreement asserting that her 19-year-old son, Plaintiff Stephen Cotton, was disabled and had an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”). Judge Valdez heard the parties' arguments and directed Walker to file a response to Defendants' motion to enforce the settlement agreement, which Walker did not do in a timely fashion. Nonetheless, once Walker filed her response on February 13, Judge Valdez considered the response and recommended that the Court grant Defendants' motion to enforce the settlement.


         In her Report and Recommendation, Judge Valdez first addressed Walker's arguments that the settlement was not enforceable based on her right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel concluding that because Walker was not a party to the lawsuit, she did not have standing to raise either theory. See Lardas v. Grcic, 847 F.3d 561, 566 (7th Cir. 2017). The Court agrees and also notes that “there is no Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel in a civil case.” Stanciel v. Gramley, 267 F.3d 575, 581 (7th Cir. 2001); see also Romanelli v. Suliene, 615 F.3d 847, 851 (7th Cir. 2010) (“There is no constitutional or statutory right to counsel in federal civil cases.”).

         Walker next argues that the settlement was unenforceable because it was unsigned. Turning to Illinois contract law, settlement agreements are enforced like any other contract. See In re Illinois Bell Tele. Link-Up II, 994 N.E.2d 553, 558, 373 Ill.Dec. 784 (1st Dist. 2013) (settlement “agreements are construed and enforced under principles of contract law”). “Like any other contract, the essential terms of the settlement agreement must be definite and certain for it to be enforceable.” City of Chicago v. Ramirez, 366 Ill.App.3d 935, 946, 852 N.E.2d 312, 324, 304 Ill.Dec. 62, 74 (1st Dist. 2006). Thus, “[f]or an oral contract to be valid and enforceable, its terms must be definite and consistent.” Downs v. Rosenthal Collins Group, L.L.C., 963 N.E.2d 282, 297, 357 Ill.Dec. 329, 344 (1st Dist. 2011); see also Kim v. Alvey, Inc., 322 Ill.App.3d 657, 669, 255 Ill.Dec. 267, 749 N.E.2d 368 (3d Dist. 2001) (“Illinois encourages the settlement of claims and, to that end, settlement agreements may be oral.”).

         In her Report and Recommendation, Judge Valdez highlighted the simplicity of the parties' settlement agreement to underscore the definite and consistent material terms of the oral agreement, namely, Plaintiff will dismiss this lawsuit with prejudice in exchange for $30, 000. Indeed, under the circumstances of this case, the material terms of the December 2016 agreement are definite and consistent as required under Illinois law. See Downs, 963 N.E.2d at 297; see also Condon & Cook, L.L.C. v. Mavrakis,69 N.E.3d 274, 284 (1st Dist. 2016). Walker nonetheless takes issue with the dismissal of the lawsuit as a term of the settlement agreement because the individual defendant officers get “to walk away without accepting any responsibility for their actions.” (R. 59, Objections, at 2.) As Judge Valdez explained to Walker at the January 26, 2017 motion hearing, “when there is a settlement agreement [p]art of the agreement will be a dismissal of the case because that's what you are buying, and it's a dismissal with prejudice. That's what you get for [the] money. So, that's normal, standard, nothing unusual, nothing strange about that.” (R. 47, 1/26/17 Hr'g Tr., at 8.) In any event, the ...

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