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Weldon v. Hodge

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

September 27, 2017

MONIQUE NICOLE WELDON, Plaintiff,
v.
BOYD HODGE, Maintenance Officer; PAUL STUMP, Unit Manager; SHELBY SEARLS, Unit Manager; and WEST VIRGINIA DIVISION OF CORRECTIONS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Among the various pending motions before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement. (ECF Nos. 97, 101, 102, and 103). Because the Motion was contested (ECF No. 108), the Court held a plenary hearing to receive evidence and hear the parties' arguments. The matter is fully briefed and the evidentiary record is now sufficient to rule on the matter. As explained below, the Court finds that a settlement agreement was reached. Accordingly, the Court will enforce that agreement. However, as there still remain questions regarding the compliance with the settlement agreement, the Court will refer to the Magistrate Judge certain issues detailed below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This matter commenced with the filing of a pro se complaint by Monique Weldon (“Plaintiff”). Compl., Aug. 18, 2016, ECF No. 3. Plaintiff made various allegations in her complaint concerning unlawful treatment by prison staff during her incarceration at Lakin Correctional Center, in West Columbia, West Virginia.[1] In November of 2016, Paul Strobel, an attorney who has experience handling civil claims of incarcerated individuals, met with Plaintiff to discuss her claims before this Court. Hr'g. Tr., ECF No. 141, at 4. On December 13, 2016, Mr. Strobel entered a notice of appearance on behalf of Plaintiff (ECF No. 70), and subsequently amended the complaint. (ECF. No. 77).

         During one of their meetings in late February or early March, Mr. Strobel and Plaintiff discussed the possibility of settlement. Hr'g. Tr. at 6-9, 73. In this discussion, Plaintiff communicated to Mr. Strobel that any potential settlement would have to include the agreement of the West Virginia Department of Corrections (“WVDOC”) to expunge a behavioral infraction from her record. Hr'g. Tr. at 6-12, 15-16. Specifically, Plaintiff wanted a “fraudulent representation” infraction expunged that was submitted on September 9, 2016. Hr'g. Tr. at 7, 55-56. This infraction arose from Plaintiff's filing of an administrative complaint about one of the alleged incidents of mistreatment that gave rise to this suit. Id.

         However, the potential for a settlement based upon this essential term was time constrained. Plaintiff had a parole hearing on March 13, 2017. If she was to receive the benefit of the dismissed infraction, the settlement had to be reached quickly enough to allow for sufficient time for recalculation of her Level of Service/ Case Management Inventory (“LSCMI”), a risk assessment tool used to determine the appropriateness of parole. Plaintiff believed that by erasing this infraction, her LSCMI score would lower, thus increasing her chances of receiving parole. Hr'g. Tr. at 7-9, 109-10, 122. After consulting with his client, Mr. Strobel made demand upon defense counsel that included a monetary component and expungement of the infraction on or around March 6, 2017. Hr'g. Def.'s Ex. 2, ECF No. 137-3, at 1; Hr'g. Tr. at 9-10. Defense counsel countered, and after some additional negotiation, Mr. Strobel and counsel for the defendants agreed to the terms of a settlement on March 9, 2017. As recited in a March 10 email confirming the agreement reached, the WVDOC agreed to the following terms:

1. Payment of $5, 000.00;
2. Expunging from her record the disciplinary action for “fraudulent representation” from the September 9, 2016 “bee” incident; and
3. Re-evaluating her “LSCMI” in light of the expungement.

Hr'g. Ct.'s Ex. A, ECF No. 137-1, at 2. In consideration for those promises, Ms. Weldon had to agree to dismiss this civil action, Case No. 3:16-cv-7887, as well as two other pending civil actions:

(1) State of West Virginia ex rel. Monique W. v. Anne Thomas, et. Al., Matter No. 16-0939 pending before the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia; and (2) Monique Nicole Weldon v. Lori Nohe, et. al., Civil Action No. 3:16-3815, previously pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, now on appeal before the Fourth Circuit as Case No. 16-7721.

Id.

         On Friday, March 10, 2017, Plaintiff called Mr. Strobel to inform him that instead of her LSCMI going down (positive for Plaintiff, meaning a better chance of parole), it went up (negative for Plaintiff, meaning a reduced chance of parole). Hr'g. Ct.'s Ex. A, at 2. Mr. Strobel reached out to WVDOC's counsel, Ms. Lou Ann Cyrus, to confirm that the WVDOC had met its obligations under the settlement agreement. Ms. Cyrus initially responded that Plaintiff's LSCMI had gone up from 17 to 21 based upon Plaintiff's inability to obtain/maintain employment. Id. Although the new overall LSCMI was negative for Plaintiff, Ms. Cyrus told Mr. Strobel that “as a result of expunging the write-up, her classification score decreased (again, a positive movement) from a 4 to a 3, so [expunging the “fraudulent representation” infraction] did improve her score as anticipated.” Id. On the day of the parole hearing, Ms. Cyrus informed Mr. Strobel that the LSCMI was again updated that morning, “taking into account the removal of the fraudulent representation write-up.” Id. at 1. This time, Plaintiff's LSCMI score was 17, “[i]nstead of 21.” Id.

         Despite the alleged expungement of the infraction, the parole board denied Plaintiff's application for parole. Hr'g. Def.'s Ex. 1, at 1. Attached to the parole board's summary decision is a list of 16 infractions she received during incarceration. Id. at 3. The list did not appear to include the September 9, 2016 infraction for “fraudulent representation” that the WVDOC had agreed to expunge.

         Prior to the parole hearing, Plaintiff had neither signed any settlement agreement, nor filed a voluntary dismissal for any claims. On April 5, 2017, Ms. Cyrus sent Mr. Strobel two batches of documents. Hr'g. Def.'s Ex. 4, ECF No. 137-5, at 1. The first was a collection of information regarding the 16 violations that were listed in the attachment to the parole summary decision. Id. at 1-30. The second included a “Release of All Claims, proposed Dismissal Order, proposed Rule 41(a) Dismissal Order, and a settlement check in the amount of Five Thousand Dollars ($5, 000.00.)” Id. at 3, 31-42. On April 19, 2017, Mr. Strobel forwarded the settlement documents, along with a copy of the settlement check, to Plaintiff with instruction to review the agreement and sign. Pl.'s Resp. to Counsel's Mot. to Withdraw, ECF No. 92, at 32. In an undated letter, Plaintiff informed ...


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