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Keumurian v. Equifax Information Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 27, 2016

MARY KAY KEUMURIAN, Plaintiff,
v.
EQUIFAX INFORMATION SERVICES, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO ENFORCE SETTLEMENT AND PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO VACATE SETTLEMENT

          ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion to vacate the settlement agreement [ECF No. 26] and ALLOWS Defendant's motion to enforce the settlement agreement [ECF No. 27].

         I.BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Mary Kay Keumurian (“Plaintiff”) brought this action under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681, et seq., alleging that Defendant Equifax (“Defendant”) falsely reported a judgment on her credit report. [ECF No. 1 at 1]. Plaintiff's complaint states that Target National Bank filed a collection action against her in 2009. Id. at 2. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff filed for bankruptcy, listing Target as one of her creditors. Id. Although Target's collection action was automatically stayed due to Plaintiff's bankruptcy petition, the court in the collection action nonetheless proceeded to enter judgment. Id. Plaintiff was unaware of the judgment until she had a mortgage application denied more than four years later. Id. at 3. After successfully petitioning to vacate the Target judgment, Plaintiff notified Defendant, who initially refused to remove the Target judgment from Plaintiff's credit report. Id. After some back and forth, Defendant ultimately removed the judgment from Plaintiff's credit report. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff nonetheless alleges that she suffered damage as a result of Defendant's initial refusal to remove the information from the report. Id. at 4.

         On July 8, 2015, Plaintiff filed a notice of settlement in this action, reporting that the matter had been resolved and that “the parties are finalizing settlement, ” and requested a 30-day settlement order. [ECF No. 17]. In August and September 2015, the parties filed two joint motions to extend time to finalize the settlement, reporting that they were continuing to discuss the details of the settlement. [ECF Nos. 19, 21]. On September 30, 2015, Plaintiff's counsel, Josef Culik, moved to withdraw. [ECF No. 23].

         On February 2, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion to vacate the settlement agreement, and Defendant filed a motion to enforce. [ECF Nos. 26, 27]. Plaintiff claims she did not authorize her predecessor counsel, Mr. Culik, to settle the lawsuit on her behalf. [ECF No. 26]. Defendant argues that the parties entered into a binding settlement agreement, and requests that the agreement be enforced. [ECF No. 28 at 1]. The Court held an evidentiary hearing on October 18, 2016. Plaintiff testified at the hearing, and Defendant introduced a declaration and exhibits from Mr. Culik, including a series of emails.

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT

         Based on the evidence submitted by the parties, as well as Plaintiff's testimony at the evidentiary hearing, the Court makes the following findings of fact.

         Plaintiff engaged Mr. Culik as counsel in 2014. On October 21, 2014, they signed a contingency retainer agreement. The retainer includes a clause titled “Possible Difference Between My Recovery and the Attorney's Fee, ” which states that the value of the client's damages may be less than the value of the attorney's work, that “I understand that my recovery may be less than what the Attorney receives, ” and then authorizes the attorney to negotiate a reasonable fee. Plaintiff initialed this paragraph in addition to signing the retainer agreement.

         On December 29, 2014, after Defendant had removed the Target judgment from Plaintiff's credit report, Mr. Culik sent an email to Plaintiff advising her that “it is possible that we could bring a case for statutory damages ($100 to $1, 000), but it is not something that is likely to obtain the damages you are seeking.” Plaintiff responded on January 31, 2015, stating that she wanted to proceed with the case.

         Mr. Culik engaged in settlement negotiations with Defendant's counsel via email in May and June 2015. On May 13, 2015, Mr. Culik wrote in an email to Defendant's counsel that Plaintiff had authorized him to make a settlement offer of $12, 290.40. Defendant responded on June 15, 2015 with a counteroffer of $2, 000. On June 16, 2015, Mr. Culik wrote that Plaintiff had authorized him to make a counteroffer of $7, 790.40. On June 18, 2015, Defendant responded with a counteroffer of $4, 000. On June 21, 2015, Mr. Culik wrote to Defendant that Plaintiff had authorized him to make a counteroffer of a lump sum of $6, 500. On June 22, Defendant made a counteroffer of $5, 000. On June 23, Mr. Culik wrote that Plaintiff had authorized him to accept Defendant's offer of $5, 000, and added, “I am glad we were able to resolve this.” The same day, Defendant's counsel responded: “Glad we were able to settle.”

         Mr. Culik consistently communicated with Plaintiff to keep her informed about the negotiations and to obtain her approval regarding the various settlement offers. On May 8, 2015, Mr. Culik sent an email to Plaintiff stating that cases like hers “usually settle fairly quickly, ” and asking her to email back to “confirm that, if they accept, we can settle for the maximum $1, 000 in statutory damages, plus attorney fees and costs?” On the same day, Plaintiff wrote back: “Yes, I confirm that we can settle for the maximum $1, 000 in statutory damages, plus attorney fees and costs.”

         On June 18, 2015, Mr. Culik sent an email to Plaintiff to inform her that Defendant “has made an offer that would pay the required $1, 000 in statutory damages, plus the attorney's fees that have been incurred (about $3, 000 to date). I would like to see if I can get them to come up a little, but would you kindly email me to confirm acceptance of these terms if we can't get them to come up more?” On June 20, 2015, Plaintiff responded: “Yes that is fine.”

         On June 23, 2015, Mr. Culik sent an email to Plaintiff stating that the case had settled. He reported that Defendant would “pay the max $1, 000 statutory damages, plus the $400 in filing fees, as well as attorney fees. They will be sending me a draft settlement agreement, which I will review and send to you for execution. This usually takes a few weeks. They will also include a current credit report which they will want you to agree is ...


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