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Leask v. Walcott

United States District Court, D. Alaska

February 5, 2017

THOMAS LEASK and BRENDA LEASK, Plaintiffs,
v.
HOWARD WALCOTT, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION [RE: MOTION AT DOCKET 17]

          JOHN W. SEDWICK SENIOR JUDGE.

         I. MOTION PRESENTED

         At docket 17, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to enforce a settlement agreement they claim they had with Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs Thomas and Brenda Leask respond at docket 22. Defendants reply at docket 25. Oral argument was not requested and would not assist the court.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In August of 2014, Plaintiff Thomas Leask was working as a crew member on the vessel AURIE G. when his left hand was pulled into the deck winch. The accident resulted in the amputation of his fingers. The insurance policy issued for the vessel had a policy limit of $300, 000. Plaintiff began receiving medical expenses and maintenance payments via the insurance adjuster, Scott Robinson. The payments began depleting the policy value. In early 2016, Plaintiffs began discussing settling with Defendants, the vessel owners, for the remaining policy limit. Through email, Robinson informed Plaintiffs that as of February 2016 the amount left on the policy coverage was $157, 592.06. In response, Plaintiffs indicated that they would be willing to settle with the vessel owner for the remaining policy limit if funds were tendered by a certain date. Email exchanges between Robinson and the Plaintiffs continued through March and April. On May 26, 2016, after not hearing from Robinson since April 17, 2016, Plaintiffs filed their complaint. Defendants now assert that the parties reached an agreement to settle for the remaining policy amount and that the agreement should be enforced and the case dismissed. Plaintiffs contend that the parties never reached an agreement.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[1] The materiality requirement ensures that “only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.”[2] Ultimately, “summary judgment will not lie if the . . . evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”[3] However, summary judgment is mandated “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.”[4]

         The moving party has the burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.[5] Where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, the moving party need not present evidence to show that summary judgment is warranted; it need only point out the lack of any genuine dispute as to material fact.[6] Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth evidence of specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial.[7] All evidence presented by the non-movant must be believed for purposes of summary judgment and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-movant.[8] However, the non-moving party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but must show that there is sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute to require a fact-finder to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.[9]

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Defendants assert that the parties reached a settlement agreement through email correspondence between Plaintiffs and Defendants' insurance adjuster. If true, and the parties did in fact reach an agreement, the court does not have the discretion to decline to enforce it.[10] On the other hand, if there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to the existence of a settlement agreement, or the terms thereof, the court cannot summarily enforce the agreement.[11]

         “[S]ettlement agreements are, at base, merely a species of contract and therefore must meet basic contractual requirements.”[12] The parties then had a settlement agreement if their email exchanges contain all the elements of a contract. The elements of a contract consist of “‘an offer encompassing all essential terms, an unequivocal acceptance by the offeree, consideration, and an intent to be bound.'”[13]

         The parties do not dispute the material facts here. All communications were through email, and the emails have been presented to the court. The series of emails is as follows:

1) February 18, 2106 email from Robinson to Plaintiffs: “[W]e write in response to your email of February 17, 2016. You have inquired as to what has been paid to date.” The email goes on to list what has been paid from the insurance policy, and then states in bold that the remaining policy limit is $157, 592.06. It acknowledges that the Plaintiffs do not want to mediate and that they have made a demand. It states that the vessel owner “has no money to contribute to the settlement.”
2) March 3, 2016 email from Plaintiffs to Robinson: “[We] have decided that we would like to end my claim. . . . I've thought long and hard if I should sue the boat owner but I don't think it would be worth it. I want to move on and settle for the rest of the insurance money so that I can at least get caught up on bills, put food on the table and not have to worry about if my lights will be shut off. This money will help me do that. If you want me to just move on and not sue, then I want to be paid by March 24, 2016. So I would have to have this money ...

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