United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS ON MOTIONS; FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
JOSEPH C. WILKINSON, Jr., Magistrate Judge.
This a civil rights action for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. All parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Record Doc. No. 12, and trial was scheduled to commence before me without a jury on October 27, 2014. Record Doc. No. 15. On October 3, 2014, the case was dismissed after a settlement conference conducted by Magistrate Judge Michael B. North. Record Doc. Nos. 30 and 31. At a hearing recorded in open court at the conclusion of the conference, Magistrate Judge North specifically approved the terms of the settlement agreement that had been reached by the parties and recited into the record. Hearing transcript, Record Doc. No. 51-1 at p. 4.
Two motions are currently pending before me in this matter: (1) Defendants' Motion to Enforce Settlement, Record Doc. No. 32; and (2) Plaintiffs' Motion to Reopen Action, Record Doc. No. 35. Plaintiffs' counsel filed a written opposition to defendants' motion, which was subsequently supplemented. Record Doc. Nos. 33, 38, and 40. Thereafter, plaintiffs' counsel filed a motion to withdraw from their representation, which was granted by the court because plaintiffs' lawyers faced a conflict of interest with their clients in that they were required to provide testimony contrary to their clients' position that plaintiffs had not agreed to the settlement. Record Doc. Nos. 39, 41; see La. R. Prof. Conduct 1.7(a). The court held an evidentiary hearing on the motions in two separate sessions on December 10, 2014 and January 21, 2015.
Having reviewed the complaint; the record; the testimony and exhibits introduced at the evidentiary hearings; the written submissions of the parties and the applicable law, IT IS ORDERED that defendants' motion to enforce the settlement is GRANTED, plaintiffs' motion to reopen this action is DENIED, and plaintiffs' complaint is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
Plaintiff Patricia Doyle is the surviving mother of decedent, Deborah Prine, and the grandmother of plaintiffs Heather and Karen Prine, who are the daughters of decedents Robert and Deborah Prine. Plaintiffs' complaint alleged the following basic facts: On August 28, 2012, Robert and Deborah Prine became involved in a violent domestic disturbance at their Reserve, Louisiana, residence, which they shared with Doyle. Doyle telephoned 911 and summoned the defendant deputies of the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office to the residence, based upon her report of the disturbance and request for assistance. When responding deputies arrived at the scene, Deborah Prine had armed herself with a rifle and was outside the residence. In the ensuing moments, with Deborah Prine having failed to surrender her rifle when commanded to do so by the deputies and Robert Prine "yelling at the defendant deputies, " Deborah Prine was shot and killed by the deputies. "In response to witnessing his wife being shot Robert Prine became hysterical. As he ran towards his wife's body screaming and unarmed he was shot and killed by the defendants...." Record Doc. No. 12 (Complaint at ¶¶ 8-18).
Before all parties consented to proceed before a Magistrate Judge, I was scheduled to conduct a settlement conference in the case. After Section 636(c) consent, however, I cancelled the settlement conference, Record Doc. No. 16, consistently with Becker v. Tidewater, Inc., 405 F.3d 257, 260 (5th Cir. 2005), and the conference was instead subsequently scheduled and conducted by Magistrate Judge North. Record Doc. Nos. 21 and 30.
The record and the evidence received by the court during the evidentiary hearing concerning these motions establishes that the settlement conference occurred in Magistrate Judge North's chambers and courtroom on October 2, 2014, and lasted about two hours. All three plaintiffs were present in person, together with both of their lawyers, Gary Bizal and William Crull, and counsel for the defendants. At the conclusion of settlement discussions, Magistrate Judge North summoned a court reporter, took the bench, and the settlement agreement was recorded in open court.
According to the transcript of those proceedings, Bizal orally outlined the essential terms and conditions of the settlement agreement, including a payment of $12, 000.00 from defendants to plaintiffs in exchange for dismissal of the case and release of all claims, with "a non-disclosure clause in the agreement, neither party can indicate the amount of settlement." Record Doc. No. 51-1 at p. 3. Bizal also stated: "I have the authority of all of the plaintiffs to proceed with this judgment, your Honor." Id . The court and plaintiffs' counsel then engaged in the following exchange:
The Court: Mr. Bizal, .... Do you have full and actual authority given to you today by all of your clients to enter into and bind this settlement?
Mr. Bizal: Yes, I do, your Honor.
The Court: Are you satisfied that they're entering into this settlement voluntarily, knowingly, and of their own free will?
Mr. Bizal: Yes, your Honor.
The Court: And are you satisfied that it's their intention today, and is it your intention today and desire today on behalf of your clients to enter into ...