United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN DISTRICT JUDGE.
Plaintiff, Diane Witt (“Witt”), has brought this
action against American Airlines, Inc.,
(“American”) seeking monetary damages for
injuries she alleges that she sustained due to exposure to
cold air while seated near the exit door of an aircraft. The
complaint in this matter was filed in this court on November
4, 2014. From the institution of the lawsuit in 2014, until
May of 2017, the Plaintiff was represented by Attorney Joseph
Musacchio. On May 26, 2017, I allowed Attorney Musacchio to
withdraw from his representation of Witt, due to
“fundamental and irreconcilable differences . . .
concerning the recommended course of action.” Witt was
given three months to find new counsel. In September 2017, at
a status conference, Witt informed the court that she had not
retained new counsel. I set a deadline of November 16, 2017,
for the filing of dispositive motions and a date of December
14, 2017, for a hearing on any dispositive motions filed.
American filed a timely motion for summary judgment. On
December 1, 2017, new local counsel, David Murphy, filed an
appearance for Witt and Alexandra M. Wisner filed a motion to
Appear Pro Hac Vice (Docket No. 74). New counsel requested a six
month extension in order to familiarize herself with the file
and respond to American's motion for summary judgment. I
granted Plaintiff's new counsel an extension to February
9, 2018, to respond to American's motion for summary
holding a hearing on the motion for summary judgment, I
allowed the negligence case to proceed. I also set an expert
discovery deadline, as well as a trial date. Witt identified
Dr. Kawashari as her expert on the issue of causation. After
taking Dr. Kawashari's deposition, American filed a
motion to strike his testimony and for an entry of judgment.
That motion was based on deposition testimony by Dr.
Kawashari that he could not provide an opinion that Witt
suffered any injury as a result of her asserted exposure to
cold air during the flight in question. Dr. Kawashari further
indicated that he did not intend to testify at trial and
could not provide any causation opinion to a reasonable
degree of medical certainty.
motion to strike Dr. Kawashari's testimony stimulated
settlement discussions. Those discussions were memorialized
in an email from counsel for American to Plaintiff's
counsel on June 13, 2018;
I am running out to a meeting but wanted to get back to you.
I have been informed $15, 000 is firm (together with
acceptable release) and that the settlement must happen
promptly before more costs are incurred. This really needs to
get done this week and certainly before any further hearing
for the experts have to spend any more time preparing for
counsel responded on June 14, 2018:“Thanks for getting
back to me. Ms. Witt accepts the settlement offer of $15,
000. Please send the proposed release when you can.”
10, 2018, Witt's counsel, Attorney Wisner, informed
American that Witt didn't want to go through with the
settlement and she would be seeking to withdraw. Attorney
Wisner then filed a motion to withdraw with the Court.
See Mot. Of Counsel For The Pl. Diane Witt Seeking Leave
To Withdraw As Her Attorney (Docket No.
123)(“Motion to Withdraw”). After a hearing on
the Motion to Withdraw, at which counsel for Witt, and Witt
both testified, I granted the motion. Thereafter, American
filed Def. American Airlines, Inc.'s Mot. To Enforce
Settlement Agreement And For Award Of Costs and Atty's
Fees (Docket No. 124)(“Motion to Enforce
Settlement”). On August 1, 2018, Witt filed a
Motion invoking [her] constitutional right to legal
counsel and a freeze of the case until legal counsel is
obtained (Docket No. 132). In her motion, Witt stated
that she did not receive a copy of American's Motion to
Enforce Settlement until earlier that week.
August 3, 2018, a hearing was held on the Motion to Enforce
Settlement. Witt appeared at the hearing and argued against
granting the motion. She requested, and was granted,
additional time to file a written opposition. On August 22,
2018, Witt filed her response. For the reasons set forth
below, American's Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement
is granted. Accordingly, Witt's motion seeking
the right to obtain new counsel will be denied, as
that a binding settlement agreement was reached in the amount
of $15, 000. All parties were represented by counsel who had
actual, and apparent authority to act on their behalf.
Hubbard v. Peairs 24 Mass.App.Ct. 372, 377, (1989).
“Policy favors the enforcement of settlement agreements
so as to hold people to the contracts they make and to avoid
costly and time consuming litigation.” Hansen v.
Rhode Islands Only 24 Hour Truck and Auto Plaza, Inc.
962 F.2d 311, 315 (D.Mass. 2013. “An enforceable
settlement agreement arises in Massachusetts when all of the
parties to be bound mutually assent to all material terms
even if those terms are not memorialized in a final
writing.” Bistany v. PNC Bank, N.A., 585
F.Supp.2d 179, 182 (D.Mass. 2018). I find that in this case,
the settlement terms were clearly defined and the
parties evidenced willingness to be bound by
also seeks fees and costs alleging that Witt has acted in bad
faith. American points to the fact that Witt has had two sets
of attorneys withdraw from this case, both citing
irreconcilable differences. Moreover, the matter was
unnecessarily protracted and delayed by the Plaintiff putting
forth an expert who had no supportive opinion. I agree with
American that Witt repeatedly delayed the proceedings
resulting in significant costs to the Court, the Defendant
and her own counsel. Although it is a close call, I do not
find that her conduct warrants an assessment of costs and
attorneys' fees and therefore, am denying American's
request for the same.
American Airlines, Inc.'s Mot. To Enforce Settlement
Agreement And For Award Of Costs and Atty's Fees
(Docket No. ...