March 9, 2017

Settlement Agreements

When given the opportunity to be certain in a litigated matter, it is typically prudent to opt for such a route. This can eliminate future uncertainty. In a recent unpublished appellate opinion, the parties unfortunately decided against such a route and further litigation ensued.

Lough v. Lough, Orange County Superior Court Case #

The central issue stemmed from the interpretation of a settlement agreement.

"In May 2008, on the eve of the trial of the underlying action, Vinetta, Rodger, and Richard reached a settlement (the settlement agreement) after discussions in the chambers of Judge Di Loreto, the trial judge assigned to the case. The terms of the settlement agreement were put on the record in court with all parties present."

"Judge Di Loreto emphasized that the settlement agreement that was being put on the record was a binding agreement, stating that "basically what we're doing today is, in fact, a settlement, we're going to put it on the record. Even though nobody signed anything, it's just as good. [¶] [The court reporter] is taking down everything that I say, so it's going to be part of a settlement that's going to be enforceable. Do you understand?" Vinetta responded, "Yes." Judge Di Loreto asked Vinetta, "Do you understand everything Ms. Lough?" Vinetta responded, "I should." Judge Di Loreto said, "Well, not you should, do you understand it?" Vinetta responded, "I do." Judge Di Loreto then asked, "Do you agree to it?" Vinetta responded, "Yeah."

"The court ordered that copies of the transcript of the hearing be provided to counsel for both sides "so they can draft the stipulation, even though at this point in time we have it on the record so it's binding, even though it's not reduced to writing but it should be reduced to writing." Vinetta's counsel told the court that he would reduce the settlement agreement to writing within two weeks. The court responded, "So if I continue this matter until, say, May 16th, you'll be able to come in here with something to have formally in writing so I won't have to look to the court reporter every time?" Vinetta's counsel replied, "That would certainly be my client's desire, Your Honor. I will do everything to make that happen." In a declaration prepared in September 2013 in support of a motion by Rodger for summary adjudication in the present case, Vinetta's former counsel stated: "Ultimately, it was agreed between me and counsel for Richard that as between Vinetta, on the one hand, and Richard and Rodger, on the other hand, the May 5, 2008, transcript would stand on its own and we would not draft a separate settlement agreement. However, we did agree that a judgment would be entered to effectuate the terms of the settlement with respect to the four properties that Vinetta was going to retain and to confirm that Vinetta held title to those properties free and clear of any claims or interests of Richard (or Rodger)." (emphasis added).  

Following Vinetta's death, Richard filed suit against Rodger to enforce the settlement agreement.