United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Rodovich United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court on the Motion to Enforce
Settlement [DE 115] filed by the plaintiff, Kelly
Stuhlmacher, on November 21, 2016. For the following reasons,
the motion is DENIED.
plaintiffs, Kurt and Kelly Stuhlmacher, brought a product
liability action against the defendants, Home Depot U.S.A.,
Inc. and Tricam Industries, Inc., in Lake County Superior
Court. On November 24, 2010, the defendants removed the case
to this court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. After
the plaintiffs presented evidence, a directed verdict was
entered for the defendants. Upon review, the United States
Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the
decision and remanded it for trial.
parties began engaging in settlement discussions in January
of 2015. On May 7, 2015, plaintiffs' counsel sent
defendants' counsel an email agreeing to settle the case
for $50, 000.00. Defendants' counsel sent plaintiffs'
counsel the Release and Settlement of Claim and stated that
the check would be mailed upon receipt of the signed release.
The plaintiffs filed a Stipulation of Dismissal, which this
court granted and dismissed the case with prejudice. The
court retained jurisdiction for the purpose of the execution
of settlement documents and settlement enforcement.
November 17, 2014, Kurt was charged, and has since been
convicted, with attempted murder in the Jasper County
Superior Court. Counsel for the plaintiffs advised
defendants' counsel that the Release would take time to
get signed because Kurt and Kelly were involved in divorce
proceedings and Kurt was being difficult and uncooperative.
During the divorce proceedings, an order granting Kelly's
Emergency Motion to Direct Execution of Settlement was filed
in the Jasper Circuit Court. Pursuant to the court order, the
Release was signed by Kelly and “Kurt Stuhlmacher by
Wayne Simmons, Wayne Simmons as Commissioner.” Kurt
filed a Motion to Correct Errors arguing that he was not
brought from the Jasper County Jail to attend the hearing on
the motion and that it was within his rights to decide
whether to enter into the settlement. On June 17, 2015, the
court granted the Motion to Correct Errors. In July of 2015,
the firm Lucas, Holcomb, & Medrea, who represented Kurt
and Kelly in this matter, filed a breach of contract action
against them in Lake County Superior Court and were granted
default judgment in the sum of $82, 012.12.
March 17, 2016, a Property Settlement Agreement was entered
in the plaintiffs' divorce proceeding. The agreement
The Husband is hereby awarded his interest in the pending
lawsuit wherein the Husband is the plaintiff, which arose out
of personal injuries he received, now pending in the Northern
District of Indiana, and the Husband shall hold the Wife
harmless from any and all debt, including the judgment
entered in favor of the Husband's previous counsel and
against the Husband and Wife, which arose out of said
litigation, and hold the Wife harmless from such debts,
costs, expenses, and judgments.
L. Clement, Jr., who previously represented the plaintiffs,
filed the Motion to Enforce the Settlement [DE 115] on behalf
of Kelly Stuhlmacher. Kelly has requested the court to order
the payment of the settlement proceeds to her with or without
a fully executed Release and Settlement of Claim or appoint a
Commissioner to execute the Release on behalf of Kurt. The
defendants filed a Response in Opposition [DE 117].
court had jurisdiction over the underlying suit, but
jurisdiction does not extend automatically to the enforcement
of a settlement agreement. “The Supreme Court has
stated that the enforcement of a settlement agreement
‘requires its own basis for jurisdiction, ' and
that it is not simply a continuation or renewal of the
original (dismissed) suit.” Pollack v. Rosalind
Franklin University, 2006 WL 3783418, *2 (N.D. Ill.
2006) (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co.,
511 U.S. 375, 378, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 1676, 128 L.Ed.2d 391
(1994)). There must be a deliberate retention of
jurisdiction. McCall-Bey v. Franzen, 777 F.2d 1178,
1189-1190 (7th Cir. 1985). To accomplish this, the court
specifically must state its intent to retain jurisdiction in
its order dismissing the case or incorporate the terms of the
dismissal in its order, as the court has done in this matter.
See Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 378, 114 S.Ct. at
settlement agreement of federal claims is enforceable
“just like any other contract.” See Dillard
v. Starcon Int'l, Inc., 483 F.3d 502, 506 (7th Cir.
2007) (quoting Lynch, Inc. v. SamataMason Inc., 279
F.3d 487, 489 (7th Cir. 2002)); see also Kokkonen v.
Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 380-82, 114
S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994). However, state law
governs whether the parties made a contract, so Indiana law
applies here. Dillard, 483 F.3d at 506. Under
Indiana law, the elements of a binding contract include an
offer, acceptance of the offer, consideration, and meeting of
the minds between the parties. See Bennett v.
Broderick, 858 N.E.2d 1044, 1048 (Ind.Ct.App. 2006). A
meeting of the minds of the contracting parties, having the
same intent, is essential to the formation of a contract.
Zimmerman v. McColley, 826 N.E.2d 71, 77
(Ind.Ct.App. 2005); Wallem v. CLS Indus., Inc., 725
N.E.2d 880, 883 (Ind.Ct.App. 2000). The intent relevant in
contract matters is not the parties' subjective intents
but their outward manifestation of it. Zimmerman,
826 N.E.2d at 77; Centennial Mortgage, Inc. v.
Blumenfeld, 745 N.E.2d 268, 277 (Ind.Ct.App. 2001).
Furthermore, the party seeking to enforce a contract bears
the burden of proof to establish its existence. First
Nat'l Bank of Logansport v. Logan Mfg. Co., Inc.,
577 N.E.2d 949, 953 (Ind. 1991).
7, 2015, plaintiffs' counsel sent defendants' counsel
an email accepting the defendants' offer of $50, 000.00
to settle the matter. However, the defendants have argued
that the settlement agreement is not enforceable. First, the
defendants contend that Kurt's failure to sign the
release indicated that he rejected the offer. Defendants'
counsel represents that plaintiffs' counsel was aware
that payment was conditioned on both Kelly and Kurt signing
the Release. Also, the defendants contend that
plaintiffs' counsel may not have had authority to settle
the dispute. An attorney's authority to agree to an
out-of-court settlement will not be presumed, and the burden
of proof rests on the party alleging authority to show that
fact. Magallanes v. Illinois Bell Telephone Co., 535
F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2008). Kurt's refusal to sign the
Release, the Motion to Correct Errors, and the Property
Settlement Agreement suggest that he did not give counsel the
authority to settle the dispute.
defendants also make the argument that if a contract was
entered into, Kurt was the first to breach by not signing the
Release and thus cannot sue to enforce it. If a party
breaches the contract, that party may not maintain an action
against the other party to enforce the contract. See