United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
RULING AND ORDER
A. JACKSON JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
Alfred Deal moves to re-open this case on the ground that his
former attorney, Keith Couture, settled it without his
consent. (Doc. 51). Couture rejoins that Deal consented to
the settlement. (Doc. 53). Both men testified: Couture's
testimony-was credible; Deal's testimony was not. For the
reasons that follow, Deal's Motion to Re-Open
(Doc. 51) is DENIED.
an inmate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. (Doc. 1). He
sued prison guards for negligence and violations of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, alleging the guards failed to protect him from
another inmate's attack. (Id.).
claim survived summary judgment: a negligence claim against
Master Sergeant Bobby Earl. (Doc. 44). That claim appeared to
settle on December 20, 2018. (Doc. 48). That day, Deal
(through Couture) informed the Court the case had settled and
moved for dismissal. (Id.). The next day, the Court
granted the motion and entered this order:
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that this action is DISMISSED, without
prejudice to the parties' rights to, within SIXTY DAYS,
and upon good cause shown, re-open this action if the
settlement is not consummated.
(Doc. 49). Sixty-one days later, Deal (now pro se)
filed an "opposition" to the dismissal. (Doc. 51).
In the "opposition," Deal contends Couture settled
the case without his consent, and Deal asks the Court to
re-open the case for all purposes. (Id.). Couture
counters that Deal gave him "express permission to
settle his claim for a set amount and a dental exam."
the conflicting accounts, the Court re-opened the case for
one purpose: to decide if Deal consented to the settlement.
(Doc. 55). To inform that decision, the Court held
evidentiary hearings and received testimony. (Docs. 62, 67).
the first hearing, Couture stated that, over the course of
two telephone calls on December 20, 2018, Deal consented to
settle the case for $10, 000 and an independent dental
examination. (5/29/19 Hrg. Tr. at 13). Deal told a different
story. (Id., at p. 6). He denied having telephone
conversations with Couture on December 20, 2018.
(Id. at 19). In fact, he said he "had no
knowledge" Couture was negotiating a settlement on his
behalf. (Id. at 6). He also said that he intended to
replace Couture with another lawyer. (Id. at 6-7).
According to Deal, attorney Joseph Long agreed to take the
case but changed his mind upon learning that it had been
dismissed. (Id. at 10). Deal insisted,
however, that attorney Mary Howell had actually agreed to
take his case. (Id. at 21). Based on these
representations, the Court granted Deal twenty-three days to
have Howell move to enroll on his behalf. (Id. at
close of the first hearing, the Court observed that the
validity of the settlement raised a credibility
question. (Id. at 26). But the Court declined to
receive testimony because Couture remained enrolled as
Deal's attorney. (Id.). The Court directed
Couture to move to withdraw and set a second hearing for the
presentation of testimony. (Id.). Couture timely
moved to withdraw, and the Court granted the motion before
the second hearing began. (Docs. 59, 60).
the second hearing, Couture offered testimony matching his
prior representations. (8/6/19 Hrg. Tr. at 23-31). He
testified that he spoke to Deal twice over the telephone on
December 20, 2018. (Id. at 23). He testified that he
asked Deal if he had permission to settle for $10, 000 and an
independent dental examination. (Id. at 27). Couture
testified that Deal responded "yes."
testimony conflicted with his prior representations.
(Id. at 7). For example, Deal testified that he
discussed a settlement with Couture on December 20, 2018.
(Id.). He represented, during the prior hearing,
that he had "no knowledge" of settlement
negotiations. (5/29/19 Hrg. Tr. at 6). He also testified that
the settlement discussions occurred over the telephone.
(8/6/19 Hrg. Tr. at 8). During the prior hearing, however, he
represented that it would be "absolutely
impossible" for him to receive multiple telephone calls.
(5/29/19 Hrg. Tr. at 18). Finally, he made no mention of Mary
Howell, the attorney who, according to his prior
representations, had agreed to take his case. (8/6/19 Hrg.
Tr. at 1-42).
these discrepancies, the Court finds that Deal has not
testified credibly. Because no credible evidence supports
Deal's assertion that he did not consent to the
settlement, he has not shown good cause to re-open this case.
IT IS ORDERED that the Motion to