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Jensen v. Minnesota Department of Human Services

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 28, 2017

James and Lorie Jensen, as parents, guardians, and next friends of Bradley J. Jensen; James Brinker and Darren Allen, as parents, guardians, and next friends of Thomas M. Allbrink; Elizabeth Jacobs, as parent, guardian, and next friend of Jason R. Jacobs; and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Minnesota Department of Human Services, an agency of the State of Minnesota; Director, Minnesota Extended Treatment Options, a program of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, an agency of the State of Minnesota; Clinical Director, the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options, a program of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, an agency of the State of Minnesota; Douglas Bratvold, individually and as Director of the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options, a program of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, an agency of the State of Minnesota; Scott TenNapel, individually and as Clinical Director of the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options, a program of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, an agency of the State of Minnesota; and the State of Minnesota, Defendants.

          Shamus P. O'Meara, Esq., and Mark R. Azman, Esq., O'Meara Leer Wagner & Kohl, PA, counsel for Plaintiffs.

          Scott H. Ikeda, Aaron Winter, and Anthony R. Noss, Assistant Attorneys General, Minnesota Attorney General's Office, counsel for State Defendants.

          ORDER

          DONOVAN W. FRANK United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' objection to the Court's continuing jurisdiction over this matter. On April 5, 2017, the Court directed the parties to brief this issue and to submit a proposed briefing schedule for the Court's approval. (Doc. No. 626.) On April 18, 2017, the Court imposed a briefing schedule. (Doc. No. 630.) The parties have fully briefed the issue. (See Doc. Nos. 631, 634, 635, 637.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court overrules Defendants' objection.

         BACKGROUND

         This case began nearly eight years ago, on July 10, 2009, when Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against Defendants asserting multiple violations of federal and state law arising out of allegations of “abusive, inhumane, cruel and improper use of seclusion and mechanical restraints routinely imposed upon patients of the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options program (METO).”[1] (Doc. No. 1 at 2.) Following extensive negotiations, the parties entered into a Stipulated Class Action Settlement Agreement (“Agreement”) which was approved by the Court on December 5, 2011. (See Doc. Nos. 104, 136.)

         The Agreement provides for the closure of the METO facility, establishes requirements regarding restraint and seclusion at successor facilities, and establishes requirements for the Department of Human Services (“DHS”) to internally and externally monitor restraint use. (See Doc. No. 136-1 (“Agreement”) at 6-13.) The Agreement also provides that the State shall exercise “best efforts” for appropriate discharge of residents to the most integrated setting through transition planning. (Id. at 13-14.) In addition, the Agreement imposes requirements relating to other practices at METO and its successor facilities such as staff training. (Id. at 14-16.)

         Beyond the provisions applicable to METO and its successors, the Agreement also includes a section entitled “System Wide Improvements.” (See Id. at 16-21.) This section identifies goals and objectives in the areas of long-term monitoring, crisis management, and training. (Id. at 16-17.) In addition, this section imposes requirements related to the creation of an Olmstead Plan which was agreed to be developed and implemented within eighteen months of the Agreement's approval. (Id. at 18.) The Agreement also establishes requirements relating to two other state facilities, the modernization of state administrative rules relating to positive behavioral supports (“Rule 40”), and the substitution of offensive terminology in DHS publications. (Id. at 19-21.)

         In its December 1, 2011 Fairness Hearing regarding the Agreement, the Court stated:

I find it to be fair, reasonable and adequate and will also serve the public interest, as well as the interests of the Class Members. Of course that carries with it . . . a responsibility on the parties and the public has a right to hold the Court to its responsibility to follow its oath and to make this Agreement mean something with the jurisdiction of the Court.
And obviously, enough people have spoken today, so it is not surprising that, obviously, many of you will have a watchful eye and careful scrutiny to see to it that this does what it says it is going to do, and what it is intended to do, and just isn't words on a legal document.
And of course, by the agreement, the Court, by an agreement of all of the parties, the Court does reserve continuing jurisdiction for a minimum of a two-year period to enforce compliance with the provisions of the Agreement and the Judgment . . . .

(Doc. No. 146 at 75.)

         On March 24, 2017, the Court held a status conference relating to Defendants' implementation of the Olmstead Plan which was developed by Defendants and approved by the Court in the intervening years following the Court's approval of the Agreement. (See Doc. No. 620.) At this status conference, Defendants' Counsel raised an objection to the Court's continuing jurisdiction over this case. Specifically, Defendants' Counsel argued that the Court has been without jurisdiction since December 2014. Counsel for Plaintiffs argued that the Court presently has jurisdiction. In light of Defendants' objection, the Court ordered briefing and now issues this order to resolve the dispute.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard

         “Subject-matter jurisdiction is a threshold requirement which must be assured in every federal case.” Kronholm v. Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp., 915 F.2d 1171, 1174 (8th Cir. 1990). A court is required to dismiss an action if “at any time” it concludes it has no subject-matter jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3). “Jurisdictional issues, whether they involve questions of law or of fact, are for the court to decide.” Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 (8th Cir. 1990). “Because jurisdiction is a threshold issue for the court, the district court has ‘broader power to decide its own right to hear the case than it has when the merits of the case are reached.'” Wessels, Arnold & Henderson v. Nat'l Med. Waste, Inc., 65 F.3d 1427, 1431 (8th Cir. 1995) (quoting Bellecourt v. United States, 994 F.2d 427, 430 (8th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1109 (1994)). In particular, a court may “weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case.” Osborn, 918 F.2d at 730 (quoting Mortenson v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d. Cir. 1977)). To evaluate whether it has jurisdiction, “a district court may make findings of fact.” Appley Bros. v. United States, 164 F.3d 1164, 1170 (8th Cir. 1999). “As no statute or rule prescribes a format for evidentiary hearings on jurisdiction, ‘any rational mode of inquiry will do.'” Osborn, 918 F.2d at 730 (quoting Crawford v. United States, 796 F.2d 924, 929 (7th Cir. 1986)). The burden of establishing subject-matter jurisdiction rests with the plaintiff.[2] V S Ltd. P'ship v. Dep't of Hous. & Urban Dev., 235 F.3d 1109, 1112 (8th Cir. 2000).

         II. Federal Court Jurisdiction to Enforce Settlement Agreements

         “Federal courts do not have automatic ancillary jurisdiction to enforce a settlement agreement arising from federal litigation.” Gilbert v. Monsanto Co., 216 F.3d 695, 699 (8th Cir. 2000). Rather, a federal court has jurisdiction to enforce a settlement agreement only where “the parties' obligation to comply with the terms of the settlement ha[s] been made part of the order of dismissal-either by separate provision (such as a provision ‘retaining jurisdiction' over the settlement agreement) or by incorporating the terms of the settlement agreement in the order.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 381 (1994). The Eighth Circuit has consistently acknowledged this “well-established rule.” See W. Thrift & Loan Corp. v. Rucci, 812 F.3d 722, 724 (8th Cir. 2016); see also Roberts v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 617 F. App'x 613, 614 (8th Cir. 2015); Jenkins v. Kan. City Mo. Sch. Dist., 516 F.3d 1074, 1080-82 (8th Cir. 2008). As the Supreme Court's opinion in Kokkonen suggests, courts applying this rule must look at the terms of the court's dismissal order to evaluate the scope of the court's ancillary jurisdiction. See 4:20 Commc'ns, Inc. v. Paradigm Co., 336 F.3d 775, 778 (8th Cir. 2003) (“The issue of subject matter jurisdiction under Kokkonen turns on the language of the dismissal order, not on events prior to the dismissal.”).

         Where a court retains jurisdiction for a specified period of time, the court no longer has ancillary jurisdiction after that period ends. Id. During a period of retained jurisdiction, however, “the parties [are] at liberty . . . to request the [c]ourt for assistance in effecting the settlement, or in further extending its retention of jurisdiction.” Buettner v. Kunard, Barnett, Kakeldey & Gates, Ltd., Civ. No. 4-95-720, 1998 WL 668035, at *1 n.1 (D. Minn. Aug. 10, 1998); see also Stewart v. O'Neill, 225 F.Supp.2d 6, 8-9 (D.D.C. 2002). Even where the parties agree to the court's retention of jurisdiction, a court is not obligated to exercise continuing jurisdiction and may terminate its jurisdiction in its discretion. See Arata v. Nu Skin Int'l., Inc., 96 F.3d 1265, 1269 (9th Cir. 1996).

         Here, the Court's December 5, 2011 Final Approval Order for Stipulated Class Action Settlement Agreement, (Doc. No. 136), governs the scope of the Court's ancillary jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement. In this order, the Court granted Plaintiffs' Petition for Final Approval of Stipulated Class Action Settlement Agreement and dismissed the action with prejudice. (Id. at 2-3.) The Court also retained jurisdiction to enforce the Agreement in two ways. First, the Court provided that the Agreement was “expressly incorporated herein” and attached the Agreement to the order. (Id. at 2.) Second, the Court expressly retained jurisdiction over the Agreement as follows:

[I]t is hereby ordered that the parties are directed to consummate the Agreement in accordance with its terms, and this Court hereby reserves continuing jurisdiction for the time period set forth in the Agreement to enforce compliance with the provisions of the Agreement and the Judgment, as well as ensuring proper distribution of Settlement payments.

(Id.) Under Kokkonen and relevant Eighth Circuit caselaw, the Court plainly retained ancillary jurisdiction to enforce the Agreement through this order. See Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 381; W. Thrift & Loan Corp., 812 F.3d at 724. The parties do not appear to dispute this conclusion. However, the parties dispute the scope of the Court's retained jurisdiction. Because the Court's order both incorporated the Agreement by reference and specifically reserved jurisdiction “for the time period set forth in the Agreement, ” (Doc. No. 136 at 2), the scope and duration of the Court's jurisdiction in this case depends upon the proper construction of the Agreement itself.

         III. The Agreement's Jurisdictional Provision

         The Agreement provides that it “shall be construed and enforced in accordance with applicable federal and Minnesota laws.” (Agreement § XXI.) Settlement agreements are contracts to which ordinary principles of contract interpretation apply. See Sheng v. Starkey Labs., Inc., 53 F.3d 192, 194 (8th Cir. 1995); Dykes v. Sukup Mfg. Co., 781 N.W.2d 578, 581-82 (Minn. 2010). Federal courts evaluating settlement agreements apply the forum state's law. See Am. Prairie Const. Co. v. Hoich, 594 F.3d 1015, 1023 (8th Cir. 2010). Neither party disputes that Minnesota law applies.

         “Under Minnesota law, ‘the primary goal of contract interpretation is to determine and enforce the intent of the parties.'” Loftness Specialized Farm Equip., Inc. v. Twiestmeyer, 818 F.3d 356, 361 (8th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). “Where the parties express their intent in unambiguous words, those words are to be given their plain and ordinary meaning.” Id. (citation omitted). Therefore, a court “must first make a legal determination whether the contract is ambiguous-i.e., ‘whether the language used is reasonably susceptible of more than one meaning.'” Swift & Co. v. Elias Farms, Inc., 539 F.3d 849, 851 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting Blattner v. Forster, 322 N.W.2d 319, 321 (Minn. 1982)). A court should “construe a contract as a whole and attempt to harmonize all of its clauses.” Storms, Inc. v. Mathy Const. Co., 883 N.W.2d 772, 776 (Minn. 2016). In addition, unambiguous provisions should not be given “a strained construction.” Id. (quoting Valspar Refinish, Inc. v. Gaylord's, Inc., 764 N.W.2d 359, 364-65 (Minn. 2009)). The presence or absence of ...


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