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Tidwell v. Asselmeier

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 11, 2019

CLEO TIDWELL, Plaintiff,


          Gilbert C. Sison United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before the Court is the Wexford defendants' motion to enforce settlement agreement resulting from settlement conference (Docs. 199 & 258).[1]Tidwell filed his responses/opposition to the motion (Docs. 216 & 253). The Wexford defendants seek to enforce a settlement agreement that the parties agreed to before then Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Williams on July 6, 2018 (Doc. 179). The Court held a hearing on this matter on March 27, 2019 (Doc. 248).

         This matter has been referred to United States Magistrate Judge Gilbert C. Sison by United States District Staci M. Yandle pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(B) and (c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b) and Local Rule 72.1(a). Based on the following, the undersigned recommends that the District Court grant the motion to enforce the settlement agreement as to Tidwell' claims against Wexford Health Sources, Inc., Asselmeier, Trost, Strow and Newbold.


         On February 15, 2018, the parties attended a settlement conference before Magistrate Judge Williams (Doc. 143). Tidwell appeared via video from Lawrence Correctional Center and was represented by appointed counsel Patrick Deaton. Attorney Dennis Harms appeared for the Wexford Defendants. The case did not settle. The parties initially reached an agreement, but Tidwell backed out of the settlement while Magistrate Judge Williams was attempting to make a record confirming the terms of the parties' agreement. Tidwell refused to agree that the resolution of the case included his agreement to release and/or waive any other clams he has or may have against any Wexford employees, or Wexford itself, whether included in this matter or not.

         On July 6, 2018, the parties participated in another settlement conference before Magistrate Judge Williams in which the case settled (Doc. 179). The minutes of the settlement conference state: “Plaintiff appears with counsel Patrick Deaton. Wexford Defendants appear through corporate representative Cheri Laurent and counsel Dennis Harms. Plaintiff settles with Defendants Asselmeier, Trost, Newbold, Strow, and Wexford. Plaintiff will file a motion for leave to amend eliminating those defendants from the case as part of settlement. Defendants Henderson and Walls remain.” Id. Magistrate Judge Williams put the terms of the settlement agreement on the record, including Tidwell's agreement that he was releasing Wexford and its employees from any and all claims he had against any person employed by Wexford, or Wexford itself, whether such claim was part of this matter or not, that had accrued through the date Tidwell's executed a Release memorializing the terms of the parties' agreement.

         Thereafter, counsel for the Wexford Defendants sent Tidwell's counsel a General Release of All claims memorializing the agreement of the parties. Tidwell refused to sign the General Release of All Claims and refuses to release/waive any other claims he has or may have against any Wexford employees, or Wexford itself, whether asserted in this case or not, through the date of the execution of the Release.

         On December 7, 2018, Magistrate Judge Williams held a status conference regarding the settlement with the Wexford Defendants (Doc. 203). During this status conference, the parties indicated that Tidwell expressed a desire to withdraw from the settlement and that the Wexford Defendants intended to file a motion to enforce settlement. That same day, the Wexford Defendants filed the motion (Doc. 199) and Tidwell, by and through counsel, filed an opposition (Doc. 216). Subsequently, the Court granted Tidwell's motion for new counsel and appointed attorney John S. Rendleman to represent Plaintiff (Doc. 240). On March 27, 2019, the Court held a hearing on the motion and directed additional briefing (Doc. 174).[2] As the motion to enforce settlement is ripe, the Court turns to address the merits of the motion.


         Whether a settlement contract is binding, even if directed toward a purely federal claim, is an issue governed by the law of the state in which the parties executed the contract. See Lynch, Inc. v. SamataMason Inc.¸279 F.3d 487, 489 (7th Cir. 2002). Accordingly, the Court will apply Illinois law to determine whether the parties entered into a binding and enforceable contract during the settlement conference.

         Oral settlement agreements are enforceable under Illinois law if “there is clearly an offer and acceptance of the compromise and a meeting of the minds as to the terms of the agreement.” Wilson v. Wilson, 46 F.3d 660, 600 (7th Cir. 1994)(quoting Brewer v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 628 N.E.2d 331, 335 (Ill.App.Ct. 1993)). The essential terms must be “definite and certain” so that a court can ascertain the parties' agreement from the stated terms and provisions. Quinlan v. Stouffe, 823 N.E.2d 597, 603 (Ill.App.Ct. 2005). The agreement must be sufficiently definite with respect to all material terms. Id. at 1061. Material terms are sufficiently definite when they enable a court to ascertain the agreement between the parties. See Beverly v. Abbott Labs., 817 F.3d 328, 333 (7th Cir. 2016). “Illinois follows the objective theory of intent whereby the written records of the parties' actions-rather than their subjective mental processes-drive the inquiry.” Id.

         Magistrate Judge Williams dictated the terms of the settlement agreement on the record as he understood them and made sure the parties agreed to those terms. Lynch, 279 F.3d at 490 (noting that “[t]his is the standard practice . . . [i]t should be followed in all cases.”)(citations omitted)). The following is taken in part from the settlement conference wherein Magistrate Judge Williams set forth the material terms of the parties' confidential settlement agreement on the record:

         “This will include a confidentiality provision and a release of all claims in existence that could be asserted as of the date of the Plaintiff's signing the release relating to any claims against Wexford or any Wexford employees . . . . There . . . will also be a release of liens provision and other standard language . . . . Mr. Tidwell is that the settlement as you understand it? Yes. Okay, if you could just get a little closer to the microphone: Yes. And do you agree to it. Yes . . . .” The memorialization of the settlement agreement that defendants prepared shortly after the settlement conference includes the material terms as summarized by Magistrate Judge Williams on the record during the settlement conference (Doc. 200). Therefore, the record supports a finding that the essential terms of the oral agreement were sufficiently “definite and certain” so that the Court can ascertain the parties' agreement. Quinlan, 823 N.E.2d at 603.

         The objective conduct of the parties also demonstrates that a meeting of the minds occurred. The clearest manifestation of the parties' assent to the terms of the agreement occurred when Magistrate Judge Williams asked Plaintiff at the settlement conference whether the terms discussed on the record accurately reflected the settlement agreement and Tidwell responded “yes” and that he agreed to the settlement agreement. When prompted by Magistrate Judge Williams, each person present, including Tidwell, his attorney and defendants' counsel and defendants' representative indicated ...

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