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Floyd v. Aalaei

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

July 24, 2017

DOUGLAS FLOYD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SATU TUULIA AALAEI, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ENFORCING AGREEMENT AND MAKING FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          Ron Clark, United Slates District Judge

         Before the court are Plaintiffs' Motion for Entry of Proposed Order (Dkt. # 95) and Defendant's Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement (Dkt. # 98). For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiffs' Motion for Entry of Proposed Order (Dkt. # 95) is granted in part and denied in part, and Defendant's Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement (Dkt. # 98) is granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Douglas T. Floyd and Mark D. Floyd sued Defendant Satu Tuulia Aalei (identified by her attorney as Ms. Lowe) in state court, alleging a state law claim of defamation. Ms. Lowe removed the case on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Douglas Floyd is an attorney at law.[1] This suit arises from his representation of Ms. Lowe in a criminal matter and in a divorce action. Ms. Lowe was arrested in April 2007 for aggravated assault and criminal mischief. See Dkt. # 18-1, at p. 2. Douglas Floyd and Ms. Lowe entered into a “Contract of Employment for Legal Services, ” under which Ms. Lowe agreed to transfer title to certain real property she owned to Douglas Floyd, by Warranty Deed, as collateral for the payment of his attorney's fees.

         The attorney-client relationship between Ms. Lowe and Douglas Floyd deteriorated, and Ms. Lowe terminated Douglas Floyd as her attorney on or about October 23, 2007. Douglas Floyd asserts that his communications with Ms. Lowe “left [him] with the distinct impression that she was not going to pay the balance he had billed her, ” and therefore, he recorded the Warranty Deed on October 31, 2007. (Dkt. # 18-1, at p. 6-7). In November 2007, Ms. Lowe paid the outstanding balance (Dkt. # 18-1, at p. 7 and Dkt. # 12-1, at p. 9), and Douglas Floyd transferred the property back to her on December 12, 2007 (see Dkt. # 18-1, at p. 7; Dkt. # 12-1, at pp. 14-15).

         Ms. Lowe posted statements, which she contends are a “consumer review” about Douglas and Mark Floyd, on RipoffReport.com. (Dkt. # 44, at p. 2, ¶ 6a); (Dkt. # 63, at p. 3, ¶6). The Floyds brought suit against Ms. Lowe, alleging that her statements on RipoffReport.com are defamatory.

         On January 30, 2017, the court began jury selection in this matter and ultimately empaneled a jury of nine. On February 1, 2017, counsel gave opening statements. Upon the conclusion of opening statements, and before the Floyds called their first witness, counsel for the Floyds, Mr. Norcross, requested ten minutes to discuss settlement. About one hour later, counsel returned and announced that they had reached a settlement.

         Counsel for Ms. Lowe outlined the terms of the settlement on the record:

MR. AALAEI: The parties-Lowe, Mark Floyd, Douglas Floyd- agree to settle the entire action and agree to a mutual full release of claims-of all claims in the action and any claims that could have been brought on the following terms.
The parties shall bear their own costs and attorneys' fees.
Neither side will pay the other side any monetary compensation as part of the settlement.
Within 14 days the parties will complete a long form settlement agreement and will submit a joint stipulation and order of dismissal which also makes findings sufficient to comply with Ripoff Report's requirements for removal of content, including that the order is supported by admissible evidence including reasonably corroborated evidence and affidavits and sworn declarations that are part of the court record.
THE COURT: All right. So, let me just confirm that we're talking about both sides are dismissing all claims they have against each other as of this time, whether under constitutional law, statutory law, or common law, whether heretofore asserted or not asserted, and that both sides will bear their own attorneys' fees and costs and that the dismissals of all those claims on both sides will be with prejudice, that the court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement. Is that plaintiffs' understanding?
MR. NORCROSS: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: And is that defendant's understanding?
MR. AALAEI: Yes, your Honor.
THE COURT: And just to be sure-I don't want this coming up again later on.
Since you are here, Ms. Lowe, would you please step forward . . . .
***
THE COURT: Okay. And as I understand it, both sides are going to agree to file whatever is needed with the ripoffreport.com to get them to take down the postings that you had entered. Do you understand that?
MS. LOWE: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: Okay. And if ripoffreport.com wants a statement or a letter from you, then you're willing to provide it?
MS. LOWE: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: Okay. Same questions to Mr. Floyd and Mr. Floyd, both of you. You understand the same thing. You're giving up all claims, whether you have asserted them or not in this case, against defendant and that you are also agreeing to submit whatever papers are needed to take down ...

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