Preparing for a trial is a tense and stressful process for attorneys and their clients. Sometimes, during trial preparation, a crucial piece of evidence can come to light that may push a case from a path towards trial to a path towards a settlement agreement. A “settlement” or “compromise” under Louisiana law is just that – an agreement between the parties to settle the dispute raised in the lawsuit, usually with the exchange of a sum of money. Often, settlements are reached in the weeks leading up to trial or even on the courthouse steps.
This type of scenario occurred in Nola Title Company, LLC v. Archon Information Systems. While in the thick of trial preparation, audio recordings from one of the parties were discovered. That party concluded this evidence would be prejudicial to its case at trial, which spurred settlement negotiations. The parties eventually agreed to a compromise and notified the court of the settlement via an email to the judge’s law clerk. The next day, the attorneys reported to court and verbally outlined the terms of the settlement agreement on the official court record.
Two weeks later, the defendants hired new counsel. Two months after that, counsel for the plaintiff forwarded the formal settlement documents to memorialize the agreement that was made between the parties and entered into the court’s record. However, the defendants refused to sign the paperwork and did not timely make the payments that previously were agreed upon. Therefore, the plaintiff filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement.
In opposition to the motion to enforce, the defendants argued: 1) that their prior counsel did not have authority to enter into the settlement agreement; and 2) that the agreement on the record of the court was invalid because it did not include a provision about the audio recording, which the defendant claimed was a key element of the agreement between the parties. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court found that the settlement that was stated on the record was an enforceable settlement agreement.
The Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the ruling of the trial court. In its opinion, the appellate court includes a summary of the law governing settlements in Louisiana. After a thorough review of the applicable law, the court came to the following conclusions:
- The settlement agreement on the record of the court was a binding settlement agreement, even if the parties contemplated a future formal written agreement;
- When a compromise is placed on the record, the recital must include full disclosure of the material terms;
- Any “missing terms” from the recorded settlement agreement were not a material element of the settlement; and
- The defendants’ prior counsel had authority to enter into the settlement as written.
Based upon the court’s ruling, if the parties have a meeting of the minds and settlement terms are entered on the trial court record, there are no “do-overs” or “take-backs.” It is important to “make sure you are sure” when entering the crucial courthouse steps settlement agreement.
Nola Title Company, LLC v. Archon Information Systems, et. al., 2022-CA-0967 (La. App. 4 Cir. 4/13/23), 360 So. 3d 166.