Thursday, May 18, 2023

Court Refuses To Enforce Settlement Where Plaintiff Asserts She Did Not Agree to the Settlement

In the case of Vangjelli v. Banks, No. 19-CV-1635 (E.D. Pa. April 6, 2023 Bratter, J.), the court denied a Defendant’s Motion to Enforce a Settlement after finding that the Plaintiff asserted that she never agreed to the settlement and that the Plaintiff’s attorney had no express authority from the client to accept the proposed settlement.

The case arose out of issues related to the Plaintiff’s attempts to enter a Social Security Card Center and allegedly encountering trouble with a security guard. This led to the Plaintiff, at one point, being tackled by the security guard. The Plaintiff asserted various claims for personal injury as a result.

After the state court case was removed to federal court, the parties were referred to a magistrate judge for a Settlement Conference.

The magistrate judge was informed that the parties had settled the case. As such, the court dismissed the case with prejudice.

The Plaintiff then sent a letter to the court two (2) days later stating that she did not agree to settle and that her attorneys knew that. The Defendants filed the Motion to Enforce the Settlement at issue.

The court found a conflict of interests between the Plaintiff and her attorneys and granted the attorneys’ Motion to Withdraw. The Plaintiff did not secure new counsel.

The court construed the Plaintiff’s attorney’s letter to the court as a pro se Motion to Set Aside the Order of Dismissal.

Applying Pennsylvania law, the federal courts noted that counsel needed the express authority of the client to settle the case. The court stated that, express authority would not be found where, as here, the client had repudiated the attorney’s authority in a timely manner after the settlement.

Given that the evidence in this case showed a lack of clarity regarding the attorney’s express authority to settle the claims, the court denied the Defendant's Motion to Enforce the Settlement.

More specifically, the court saw and heard notable material gaps and inconsistencies in the testimony of the Plaintiff and her attorneys on the issues presented. The court also noted that none of the witnesses presented any documentary evidence.

It was indicated that there were two Settlement Conferences that were conducted via telephone. The record indicated that the Plaintiff was in the attorney’s office listening to the first conference but was not present for the second conference. While she was not present at the second conference, she had agreed to be available by telephone to discuss any settlement offers and to possibly authorize her attorneys to accept any offers.

The Plaintiff’s attorney testified that he conveyed the settlement offer to the Plaintiff, asked her if she wanted to settle, and that the Plaintiff had responded in the affirmative.

The attorney also testified that, when he called the Plaintiff back to tell her that the case had settled, the Plaintiff stated that she had changed her mind and no longer wanted to accept the offer.

During her testimony, the Plaintiff stated that she did not remember ever saying she wanted to accept the offer and that she had, instead, told her attorney to “go higher.”

Based upon the record before it, the court found that it could not conclude that the attorney for the Plaintiff ever had any expressed authority to accept the settlement agreement. Given that the contradictory testimonial evidence showed that there was not a meeting of the minds between the Plaintiff and her attorney as to what was said, let alone what was meant, the court denied the Petition to Enforce the Settlement.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.  The Court's Order on the case can be viewed HERE.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (April 27, 2023).

Source of image:  Photo by Cottonbro Studio on

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.