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Batts v. United Parcel Service, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division

March 11, 2015

DANIELLE E. BATTS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEON JORDAN, District Judge.

This civil action is before the court for consideration of two motions to enforce the parties' settlement agreement: "Plaintiff Danielle Batts's Emergency Motion to Revoke Voluntary Dismissal and Enforce Settlement Agreement" [doc. 32] and "UPS' Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement as Revised" [doc. 47]. Also before the court is defendant's "Motion for Leave to File Documents Under Seal" [doc. 66] and "Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendant's Untimely Response" [doc. 69]. The motions are fully briefed and ripe for the court's determination.

I.

Jurisdiction

"[I]t is beyond question that federal courts have a continuing obligation to inquire into the basis of subject-matter jurisdiction to satisfy themselves that jurisdiction to entertain an action exists." Campanella v. Commerce Exch. Bank, 137 F.3d 885, 890 (6th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). When appropriate, a federal court must raise sua sponte the issue of subject matter jurisdiction, and it can do so at any time. See Norris v. Schotten, 146 F.3d 314, 324 n.5 (6th Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). "This duty applies irrespective of the parties' failure to raise a jurisdictional challenge on their own, and if jurisdiction is lacking, dismissal is mandatory." Campanella, 137 F.3d at 890 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3)).

Neither party has made any showing that this court has jurisdiction to rule on the motions that have been filed. On June 12, 2014, the parties entered a "Notice of Dismissal with Prejudice" [doc. 31] that in its entirety states: "Pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the parties hereby stipulate to the dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice. The parties further agree that no discretionary costs, attorneys' fees, or expenses will be applied for or awarded." Plaintiff's action was dismissed, and the case was closed. Now, after dismissal and closure, the parties want the court to address their dispute concerning their settlement agreement. "Neither [Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii)] nor any provision of law provides for jurisdiction of the court over disputes arising out of an agreement that produces the stipulation." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 378 (1994).[1]

In Kokkonen, the case had been dismissed with prejudice pursuant to the provision of Rule 41 that permits dismissal of a case by a stipulation of dismissal signed by all parties who have appeared in the case. The Supreme Court held that enforcement of a settlement agreement that results in dismissal of an action in federal court is a separate breach-of-contract controversy that is distinct from the dismissed case. Id. "[A] simple order of dismissal based upon the existence of a settlement agreement [is] insufficient to invoke federal jurisdiction over any related enforcement issues." Moore v. United States Postal Serv., 369 F.App'x 712, 716 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 378). Thus, the settlement agreement can only be enforced in state court, unless the settlement agreement contains a "retaining jurisdiction" provision or there is an "independent basis for jurisdiction." Id. at 381-82. No effort has been made by the parties in this action to ensure the continuing jurisdiction of the court. Therefore, an independent basis for jurisdiction must exist in order for the court to hear the present motions.

In Limbright v. Hofmeister, 566 F.3d 672 (6th Cir. 2009), the Sixth Circuit held that when a district court has diversity jurisdiction over a breach-of-settlement controversy, the court can enforce a settlement agreement that resulted in the dismissal of an earlier federal suit. The Limbright Court "explained that Kokkonen does not divest federal courts of jurisdiction over the enforcement of such settlements where there is diversity jurisdiction over the settlement enforcement." Colyer v. Traveler's Ins. Co., 525 F.App'x 308, 313 (6th Cir. 2013) (citing id. at 676).

This case was removed from state court, and diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332 was one jurisdictional basis for removal. Defendant is an Ohio corporation, and plaintiff is a resident and citizen of Greene County, Tennessee. Because diversity of citizenship exists and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, the court has jurisdiction to hear the parties' motions concerning the enforcement of their settlement agreement.

II.

Motion to Strike

On December 24, 2014, plaintiff filed a supplemental brief in support of her motion to enforce the settlement agreement [docs. 65, 72]. Defendant filed a response on January 12, 2015 [doc. 68]. Plaintiff filed a motion to strike the response on January 14, 2015, on the grounds that it was not timely. Plaintiff contends that in accordance with the court's local rules and Rule 6 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defendant's response was due no later than January 5, 2015. In response to the motion to strike, defendant argues that plaintiff's supplemental brief is in fact a request for additional relief not previously sought and therefore it should be considered a separate motion. Thus, it is defendant's position that its response was due on January 12, 2015, and was timely filed.

The court has reviewed the filings relevant to this issue. The court concludes that plaintiff is not prejudiced by having defendant's response to her supplemental brief having been filed seven days late. Nor is defendant prejudiced by the court considering plaintiff's supplemental brief as just that rather than a separate motion. The court can evaluate the content of the filings and determine their relevance to the settlement agreement enforcement issue.

Accordingly, the court will deny plaintiff's motion to strike. Defendant's motion to file its response to the supplemental motion ...


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