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King v. The Rib Crib BBQ, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

November 20, 2018

THE RIB CRIB BBQ, INC., Defendant.


          Daniel D. Crabtree United States District Judge

         This Order decides two pending motions in this closed case: (1) plaintiffs' Motion for Order (Doc. 75), and (2) defendant's Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 78). On July 24 and 26, 2018, pro se plaintiffs submitted two separate letters to the court. Docs. 74, 75. Although the court was not able to understand precisely what plaintiffs' letters sought, it appeared that plaintiffs were asking the court to set aside the parties' Stipulation of Dismissal (Doc. 73), because, plaintiffs contend, they never consented to it. See, e.g., Doc. 75 at 1 (“We ask the court to intervene on this matter due to the misrepresentation that[ ] has occurred, and our forged signature placed onto documents without our consent or knowledge.”). The court thus directed the Clerk to docket one of the letters as a motion. Doc. 75. Defendant filed a Response to plaintiffs' Motion (Doc. 77), refuting plaintiffs' allegations of misrepresentation and forgery. Also, defendant filed a Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 78). It seeks sanctions against plaintiffs under Federal Rule Civil Procedure 11 for submitting letters to the court that lack any factual basis.

         On September 27, 2018, the court held a hearing on the two pending motions. Plaintiffs appeared pro se at the hearing. Defendant appeared through counsel. Also, a corporate representative for defendant attended the hearing with defendant's counsel. After the hearing, defendant filed under seal two confidential Settlement and Release Agreements (Docs. 86, 87). Each plaintiff had signed those agreements. Defendant also attached the endorsed settlement checks that defendant had issued to each plaintiff. In response, plaintiffs filed a document under seal purporting to contain copies of the settlement checks that plaintiff Jonathan King contends he received (Doc. 89). Because plaintiffs' submission differed from the settlement checks submitted in defendant's filing, the court ordered the parties to appear for a second hearing to explain the discrepancy. The court also ordered plaintiffs' former counsel, Larry Michel, to appear at the hearing to help the court understand the apparent discrepancy.

         On October 22, 2018, the court held the second hearing. Plaintiffs again appeared pro se at the hearing. Defendant appeared through counsel. A corporate representative for defendant again attended the hearing with defendant's counsel. And Mr. Michel-plaintiffs' former counsel-attended the hearing as the court had asked.

         After considering the parties' arguments (presented both by their papers and during the September 27 and October 22 hearings) and after reviewing the parties' submissions, the court denies plaintiffs' Motion for Order (Doc. 75). Also, the court denies defendant's Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 78). Although the court is frustrated by plaintiffs' representations to the court and their inability to provide all of the information necessary to understand their assertions, the court does not find that sanctions are warranted on this record. The court explains why, below.

         I. Factual Background

         On August 26, 2016, plaintiffs Jonathan King and Tyrece Edwards, acting through counsel Larry Michel, filed this lawsuit against their former employer, defendant The Rib Crib BBQ, Inc. Plaintiffs asserted race discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Mr. Michel represented both Mr. King and Mr. Edwards through the discovery phase of the case. Four days after the court entered the Pretrial Order-on September 19, 2017-Mr. Michel moved to withdraw as counsel for Mr. Edwards only. Doc. 56. The court granted that motion. Doc. 62. Afterward, Mr. Edwards proceeded in the lawsuit pro se. But Mr. Michel continued to represent Mr. King.

         On December 1, 2017, Magistrate Judge K. Gary Sebelius held a settlement conference with the parties. Mr. Michel represented Mr. King at the mediation. Mr. Edwards appeared pro se. The parties announced they had settled their dispute at the mediation. Afterward, Judge Sebelius entered an Order reciting that the parties had reached a settlement. Doc. 70. Also, he ordered the parties to submit a Stipulation of Dismissal by December 29, 2017. Id.

         On December 14, 2017, counsel for defendant filed a “Notice of Stipulated Voluntary Dismissal with Prejudice.” Doc. 73. It recited that the parties were dismissing the lawsuit with prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii). The Notice contained the electronic signatures of three individuals: (1) Mr. Michel, as Mr. King's counsel, signing on behalf of Mr. King; (2) Mr. Edwards appearing pro se; and (3) defendant's counsel signing on behalf of defendant.

         For the next six months, the case saw no activity. But in July 2018, plaintiffs submitted their letters to the court. In general, they allege that the Stipulation of Dismissal is a misrepresentation and contains a forgery. Plaintiffs, appearing pro se, [1] repeated these same allegations at the September 27 hearing. The court explores the plaintiffs' allegations in more detail, next.

         II. Discussion

         A. Plaintiffs' Allegations

         Plaintiffs have made allegations-both in their papers and at the hearing-that are difficult to follow. But, as best the court can discern, both plaintiffs assert that defendant has not performed its obligations under the parties' settlement agreements. Specifically, Mr. King contends that defendants have not complied with his settlement agreement because: (1) he only received a portion of the total settlement amount to which the parties agreed; (2) he did not receive a 1099 form until July 2018; and (3) he did not receive a promised neutral letter of reference until July 2018. At the September 27 hearing, Mr. Edwards asserted that he “wasn't really sure” what he is seeking with his present allegations. But later, he asked the court to award him $15, 000 for attorney's fees that defendant had paid to his former counsel as part of the settlement. Mr. Edwards asserts that his former counsel is not entitled to those fees. Also, both plaintiffs contend that they never agreed to the Stipulation of Dismissal (Doc. 73) that defendant filed with the court on December 14, 2017. As explained below, none of plaintiffs' assertions has any merit.

         The facts adduced at the hearings establish that both Mr. King and Mr. Edwards entered settlement agreements with defendant. Defendant's counsel explained at the September 27 hearing that the parties reached an agreement at the December 1 mediation. Judge Sebelius's Order confirms as much. Doc. 70. Defendant's counsel also represented that the parties discussed the terms of their settlements in detail, and later tried to put the settlements' terms on the record with Judge Sebelius.[2] After the mediation, the parties reduced their agreements to writing. Defendant's counsel represented that he sent the proposed settlement agreements by email both to Mr. King's counsel and Mr. Edwards personally. Mr. Michel confirmed that he received the proposed settlement agreement for Mr. King, and he also represented that he provided it to Mr. King for review.

         On December 5, 2017, Mr. Michel sent defendant's counsel a fully executed copy of Mr. King's settlement agreement. Doc. 77-1. In his correspondence attaching the fully executed agreement, Mr. Michel asked whether defendant intended to prepare a Stipulation of Dismissal. Id. at 1. Defendant's counsel responded the same day by sending a proposed Stipulation. Id. He asked Mr. Michel if he had permission to file the Stipulation once Mr. King had received his settlement payment. Id. Mr. Michel responded that he approved the Stipulation and that defendant's counsel could file it once payment was made. Doc. 77-2 at 1.

         On December 7, 2017, Mr. Edwards sent an email to defendant's counsel acknowledging he had received his proposed settlement agreement and that he was in the process of reviewing it. Doc. 77-3. That same day, defendant's counsel sent Mr. Edwards a proposed Stipulation of Dismissal. Id. Defendant's counsel asked Mr. Edwards if he had Mr. Edwards's approval to file it once the parties had executed their settlement agreements and defendant had made the settlement payments. Id. On December 12, 2017, defendant's counsel sent another email to Mr. Edwards asking if he had an opportunity yet to review his settlement agreement. Doc. 77-4. Mr. Edwards responded that he was ready to sign once defendant had the settlement checks for him. Doc. 77-5 at 1. Defendant's counsel responded that he had the settlement checks ready to issue and offered to meet Mr. Edwards to execute the agreement and deliver the checks. Doc. 77-6 at 1. Mr. Edwards responded: “[I]f u got the check lets roll.” Doc. 77-7. Defendant's counsel and Mr. Edwards then made arrangements for Mr. Edwards to come to the office of defendant's counsel's to sign the agreement. On December 12, 2017, Mr. Edwards went to defendant's counsel's office, signed his settlement agreement, and received the settlement checks, a neutral letter of reference, and W-2 and 1099 tax forms.

         On December 14, 2017, defendant's counsel filed the Stipulation of Dismissal that Mr. Michel (as Mr. King's counsel) and Mr. Edwards had approved. Doc. 73. Mr. Michel and Mr. Edwards (as a registered pro se litigant) received notice of the Stipulation of Dismissal's filing by email. Doc. 77-9 at 1. No one objected to the Notice of ...

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