Tag: Judicial Review

Make Sure You Are Sure! – A Comment on the Finality of Settlement Agreements under Louisiana Law

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.

References:

Nola Title Company, LLC v. Archon Information Systems, et. al., 2022-CA-0967 (La. App. 4 Cir. 4/13/23), 360 So. 3d 166.

Supreme Court Settles Circuit Split on Right to Appeal Summary Judgment

The Louisiana Supreme Court recently ruled that a co-defendant who pleads comparative fault as an affirmative defense may appeal a summary judgment that dismisses a co-defendant, even when the plaintiff did not file an appeal. The Court’s decision in Amedee v. Aimbridge Hospitality resolved a circuit split among the Louisiana Courts of Appeal regarding this issue.

The Amedee plaintiff filed a personal injury suit against multiple defendants including the City of New Orleans and Premium Parking of South Texas, LLC. After discovery, the City of New Orleans filed a Motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal from the suit. The plaintiff did not oppose the city’s motion. Premium Parking was the only party to file an opposition. The trial court granted the city’s motion and dismissed it from the suit. Premium Parking appealed the court’s judgment.

The Fourth Circuit did not address the merits of Premium Parking’s appeal. Instead, the court dismissed the appeal because it found Premium Parking did not have a legal right to appeal the city’s dismissal when the plaintiff did not appeal the judgment.

The Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the appellate court’s ruling. The Court noted that “to prohibit appellate review of a summary judgment by a co-defendant, even where a plaintiff did not appeal, diminishes the search for truth—the object of a lawsuit—and denies a defendant the ability to fully defend itself.” To reach this conclusion, the Court first asked, who may appeal a judgment?

To answer this question, the Court looked to La. C.C.P. art. 2082 and observed the article makes no restriction regarding what party may appeal a final judgment. Further, the Court noted that the right to an appeal is even extended third parties, not involved in the suit, when that third party is allegedly aggrieved by the judgment. See La. C.C.P. art. 2086.

The Court also considered a defendant’s right to appeal in the context of Louisiana’s pure comparative fault system and summary judgments. Under La. C.C. art. 2323, Louisiana’s comparative fault statute, the fault of all parties is to be quantified. La. C.C.P. art. 966(G), provides that when summary judgment is granted in favor of a party or non-party to a suit, the fault of the dismissed party may not be considered in any subsequent allocation of fault in the matter.

The Court noted that while art. 966(G) precludes an allocation of the fault of a party dismissed under the statute, it does not limit the right of a defendant to appeal the dismissal of a co-defendant. No statute limited a defendant’s right to appeal a summary judgment only to those situations where a plaintiff also filed an appeal. Therefore, a defendant who hopes to keep a co-defendant in the case so that fault still may be allocated to the dismissed party at trial now may appeal the co-defendant’s dismissal, even when the plaintiff fails to do so.

Case Reference: Amedee v. Aimbridge Hosp. LLC, 2021-01906 (La. 10/1/22), — So.3d —, 2022 WL 12338929.