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Nordstrom v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 15, 2019

Scott Douglas Nordstrom, Plaintiff,
v.
Charles L. Ryan, Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections; James O'Neil Warden, ASPC Eyman; and Staci Fay, Deputy Warden, Browning Unit, Defendants.

          ORDER

          David G. Campbell Senior United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are motions to enforce a settlement agreement between Plaintiff Scott Nordstrom and Defendants Arizona Department of Corrections (“ADOC”) and others, filed by seven death-sentenced inmates: Charles Rienhardt, Ernesto Martinez, Todd Smith, Tracy Alan Hampton, Ruben Garza, Pete VanWinkle, and Manuel Ovante Jr. (“the Inmates”). Docs 71, 75, 76, 80, 81, 85, 86. Some of the Inmates have filed other motions: motions for extensions of time to file reply briefs (Docs. 98, 99, 100, 101), motions to desist hindering third party beneficiary's ability to file (Docs. 87, 88), and a motion for default judgment (Doc. 96). Oral argument has not been requested. For the following reasons, the Court will deny the motions.

         I. Background.

         In October 2015, Plaintiff, a death-sentenced inmate in state custody, brought an action against Defendants for violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments related to death row conditions. Doc. 1. Having already planned to make death row inmates eligible for reclassification to close-custody housing, ADOC settled with Plaintiff on March 3, 2017 (“the Settlement”). Doc. 39. The Settlement provided:

[ADOC will] 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 custody inmates[;]
Death sentenced inmates who are re-classified to close custody status may be housed as a group, rather than with non-death sentenced inmates, provided, however, that nothing herein shall alter existing protocols and procedures relating to protective custody assignments.
[The] conditions and restrictions of confinement, and quality of facilities, utilized for close custody housing for death sentenced inmates shall be equivalent to that of existing close custody housing facilities used for non-death sentenced inmates.
[***]
Plaintiff's current disciplinary record meets the criteria for reclassification to close custody and he shall be reclassified to such status and transferred to such housing upon adoption of the above referenced amendments, and within one hundred twenty (120) days of this stipulations. Nothing in this stipulation shall be interpreted to require Plaintiff to remain classified as a close custody inmate if he no longer meets the requirements for close custody classification.

Id. at 2 ¶¶ 1-3, 6. Based on this settlement between Mr. Nordstrom and Defendants, the Court dismissed Mr. Nordstrom's action, incorporated the Settlement terms in its order, and retained jurisdiction to enforce the agreement. Doc. 45.

         In September 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement, asserting that Defendants failed to provide “‘conditions and restrictions of confinement, and quality of facilities' that are ‘equivalent to that of existing close custody housing facilities used for non-death sentenced inmates.'” Doc. 60 at 5. The Court denied Plaintiff's motion. Doc. 72. Among other holdings, the Court noted that Mr. Nordstrom, as Plaintiff, “did not bring this case as a class action, and the Settlement was only between Plaintiff and Defendant.” Id. at 6.

         The seven motions before the Court similarly assert that Defendants have breached the settlement agreement by failing to provide re-classification criteria that are currently available to non-death-sentenced, maximum-custody inmates.

         II. Jurisdiction.

         “In 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 the motions. Where an order grants relief to a nonparty, the Court may enforce the order using the same procedures available to a party. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 71.

         III. Legal Standard.

         In 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”). Interpretation of a contract is generally a matter of law, see Powell v. Washburn, 125 P.3d 373, 375 (Ariz. ...


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