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Hervey v. Bug Man

June 26, 2007

KEITH F. HERVEY PLAINTIFF
v.
BUG MAN AND JJL'S INC. DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wm. R. Wilson, Jr. United States District Judge

ORDER

Pending is Plaintiff's Motion to Enforce Settlement,*fn1 to which Defendants have responded.*fn2

Plaintiff filed this personal injury case pro se. In February 2007, Plaintiff executed a release and settlement agreement,*fn3 and signed a Joint Motion to Dismiss.*fn4 The case was dismissed on February 22, 2007.*fn5 Before settling, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss*fn6 for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The motion was mooted when the parties voluntarily dismissed the case.

I. Background

Plaintiff seeks to set aside the Order of Dismissal*fn7 because "we agree [sic] on the settlement for $250,000.00 not $2,500.00."*fn8 In response, Defendant offers the release, the joint motion, and an affidavit from the claims adjuster swearing that the parties agreed to settle the case for $2,500.00, Plaintiff understood the agreement, and voluntarily signed both documents.

II. Authority

A. Jurisdiction

There is no ancillary federal jurisdiction to enforce settlements.*fn9 Moreover, the pleadings reveal that there is no diversity of citizenship*fn10 and, therefore, no federal subject-matter jurisdiction.

A federal district court may not dismiss a case on the merits if there is no subject-matter jurisdiction.*fn11 On the other hand, certain threshold issues may be taken up without a finding of subject-matter jurisdiction, provided that the issue is simple when compared with the issue of subject-matter jurisdiction.*fn12 In Ruhrgas,*fn13 the Supreme Court noted that "[i]t is hardly novel for a federal court to choose among threshold grounds for denying audience to a case on the merits."*fn14 The First Circuit has specifically held that a district court may approve a voluntary dismissal of a case without first deciding subject-matter jurisdiction.*fn15

Finally, district courts have inherent power to manage their own affairs to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases.*fn16

III. Discussion

Plaintiff wants the order dismissing this case set aside because he contends that he did not agree to settle his claim for $2,500.00. The written documents bearing his signature show otherwise. The parties are seeking a judicial resolution of their dispute.

At the time of settlement, Defendants had filed the motion to dismiss and Plaintiff had asked for the appointment of counsel. Before these motions were addressed, the case was dismissed by agreement of the parties, without a ruling on the merits. Approving a voluntary dismissal is a threshold issue that can be addressed before reaching the merits of a case, especially when both parties agree.*fn17 Moreover, approving a dismissal by agreement, is the most expeditious way to dispose of a pending case.

However, there is no jurisdictional basis to address any further issue in this matter. Without grounds for federal subject-matter jurisdiction, any dispute over the settlement contract ...


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