United States District Court, D. Arizona
Gh Campbell Senior United States District Judge
Scott Douglas Nordstrom, a death-sentenced inmate in state
custody, brought an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against Defendant Charles L. Ryan, Director of the Arizona
Department of Corrections (“ADOC”), and others
(collectively, “Defendant”). Doc. 1. The parties
settled, and the Court dismissed the action. Docs. 39; 45.
Plaintiff moves to enforce the settlement agreement. Doc. 64.
No party requests oral argument. For the following reasons,
the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion.
Plaintiff filed his complaint in this action in October 2015,
ADOC policy required death-sentenced inmates to be housed in
maximum-security facilities, often referred to as
“death row.” Doc. 1 at 2-3. Plaintiff was housed
at the Arizona State Prison Complex (“ASPC”),
Eyman, Browning Unit, and he alleged that death row
conditions were significantly worse than general population
conditions and maximum-security facilities for
non-death-sentenced prisoners. Id. at 2. He asserted
violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments related to
death row conditions, including solitary confinement in
small, constantly illuminated cells; poor sanitation; a total
bar on contact visits; restricted recreation and exercise;
limited employment opportunities; and no opportunity to
participate in communal meals and group religious services.
Id. at 2, 6-10, 13-14.
already planned to make death row inmates eligible for
reclassification to close-custody housing, ADOC settled with
Plaintiff on March 3, 2017 (“the Settlement”).
Docs. 66 at 2; 39. In part, the Settlement provided that
[ADOC would] eliminate the existing permanent classification
of inmates with a death sentence to maximum custody units,
and  permit death row inmates to seek and obtain
re-classification to close custody status based on the
criteria currently available to non-death sentenced maximum
* * *
[The] conditions and restrictions of confinement, and quality
of facilities, utilized for close custody housing for death
sentenced inmates [would] be equivalent to that of existing
close custody housing facilities used for non-death sentenced
Doc. 39 at 2 ¶¶ 1, 3. The parties stipulated to
dismissal under this agreement, and the Court dismissed the
action, incorporated the Settlement terms in its order, and
retained jurisdiction to enforce the agreement. Doc. 45.
on his disciplinary record, Plaintiff was eligible for
reclassification and he eventually was transferred to
close-custody housing at ASPC-Florence, Central Unit
(“Central Unit”), in July 2017, along with other
reclassified death-sentenced inmates. Docs. 39 at 3; 64 at 3.
Central Unit is a close-custody facility and currently houses
721 non-death-sentenced and 82 death-sentenced inmates. Doc.
66-1 at 3.
general, ‘[e]nforcement of [a] settlement agreement . .
. whether through award of damages or decree of specific
performance, is more than just a continuation or renewal of
the dismissed suit, and hence requires its own basis for
jurisdiction.'” Alvarado v. Table Mountain
Racheria, 508 F.3d 1008, 1017 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S.
375, 378 (1994)). But “a federal court has jurisdiction
to enforce a settlement agreement in a dismissed case when
the dismissal order incorporates the settlement terms, or the
court has retained jurisdiction over the settlement
contract” and a party alleges a violation of the
settlement. Id. Under those circumstances, a breach
of the agreement is a violation of the court's order, and
the court has jurisdiction to enforce the agreement.
Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 381. Because the Court's
order in this case incorporated the terms of the Settlement
and retained jurisdiction (Doc. 45), the Court has
jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's motion.
Arizona, “settlement agreements, including
determinations as to the validity and scope of release terms,
are governed by general contract principles.”
Emmons v. Sup. Ct. in & for Cty. of Maricopa,
968 P.2d 582, 585 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1998); Knudsen v.
C.I.R., 793 F.3d 1030, 1035 (9th Cir. 2015); see
Adams v. Johns-Manville Corp., 876 F.2d 702, 709 (9th
Cir. 1989) (a motion to enforce a settlement agreement is
essentially “an action to specifically enforce a
contract”). The party seeking to enforce the agreement
bears the burden of proving breach. See In re
Andreyev, 313 B.R. 302, 305 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. 2004).
“[I]nterpretation of a contract is generally a matter
of law, ” Powell v. Washburn, 125 P.3d 373,
375 (Ariz. 2006), but whether a party has breached is a
question for the trier of fact, see Walter v. F.J.
Simmons, 818 P.2d 214, 218-19 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1991);
Shiloh Custom Homes, Inc. v. Drywall, No. 1 CA-CV
07-0677, 2009 WL 690600, at *7 (Ariz.Ct.App. March 17, 2009).
A party breaches a contract when it “fail[s], without
legal excuse, to perform any promise which forms the whole or
part of a contract.” Snow v. Western Sav. &
Loan Ass'n, 730 P.2d 204, 210 (Ariz. 1986).
seems to view the Settlement as tantamount to a court decree
entered after a finding that the prison system violated
constitutional rights. Among other relief, Plaintiff asks the
Court to “[a]ppoint an independent monitor to ensure
Defendant's future compliance with the terms of the
settlement agreement.” Doc. 64 at 18. But the Court
entered no decree after finding constitutional violations by
Defendant. The Court's task, therefore, is not to bring
the prison system into conformity with a constitutional
decree and make broad determinations about what may or may
not satisfy equal protection principles. The Court's task
is to enforce a contract negotiated between the parties with
the advice of their lawyers. Breach of the Settlement may
empower the Court to enforce the contract as written, but it
does not grant the Court license to impose conditions that
were not specifically agreed to by the parties, nor the power
to roam broadly through the close-custody operation seeking
to apply equal protection principles. The Court will review
the Settlement as a contract.
asserts two breaches of the Settlement: Defendant has failed
to (1) provide conditions and restrictions of confinement,
and quality of facilities for death-sentenced inmates, that
are equivalent to existing close-custody facilities, and (2)
permit all death-sentenced inmates to seek and obtain
reclassification of their custody status. Doc. 64 at 5.
Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to exhaust
administrative remedies and lacks standing, and that
Plaintiff cannot establish breach of the Settlement.
asserts that Plaintiff was required to exhaust administrative
remedies under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) before filing this
motion. Doc. 66 at 3. Even if exhaustion is not required,
Defendant argues that it would be “manifestly
unfair” for Plaintiff to “evade the grievance
procedure and begin litigation out of nowhere.”
Id. But Plaintiff has not initiated a new lawsuit.
He seeks to enforce the parties' Settlement, the terms of
which were incorporated into the Court's dismissal order.
See Doc. 45; Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 378;
Alvarado, 508 F.3d at 1017. Section 1997e(a)
requires prisoners to exhaust administrative remedies before
filing a § 1983 suit, but Plaintiff has not filed a new