The Florida Second District Court of Appeal recently declined to enforce a mediated settlement agreement in the case of Parkland Condo Association v. Henderson, even though the deal was signed by the lawyers for both parties.
Let’s review the original dispute and the relevant statute to find out why the court ruled this way:
The Initial Case
When a water leak caused damage to her property, Ruth Henderson filed suit against her condo association – The Parkland Condominium Association, Inc.
In December 2021, the court ordered the parties into mediation. A few months later, the attorney for Ms. Henderson emailed a proposed settlement agreement to the condo association’s lawyer. The following week, Parkland’s attorney replied to the email by saying, “I have received word from my client that they agree to the documents as drafted.”
On February 18th, 2022, Henderson’s legal representative filed a “mutually-agreed settlement agreement” with the court. The document had been signed by both parties’ attorneys. Notably, however, neither Ms. Henderson nor the condo association signed the agreement.
When Parkland moved to enforce the deal later in the month, the court concluded it could not do so because it couldn’t be determined that there was a “full meeting of the minds on the settlement presented by the parties.”
The condo association appealed that decision, and the case was moved to the Florida Second District Court of Appeal.
Florida’s Rules of Civil Procedure
When the Second District Court of Appeal heard the case, it affirmed the initial court’s decision. It did so because Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.730(b) states that: “If a partial or final agreement is reached [at mediation], it must be reduced to writing and signed by the parties and their counsel, if any.”
The court concluded that because the agreement was reached during court-ordered mediation, it needed to be signed by both Henderson and Parkland to become enforceable. The signatures of the parties’ attorneys were not sufficient.
The court explained that if the parties had reached the agreement outside of mediation, it “likely” would have been “binding and enforceable.” However, because the agreement occurred during mediation, it was “constrained” by the unambiguous language of Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.730(b).
For attorneys in Florida, there is a simple lesson to be learned from this case. When drafting and filing settlement agreements, always ensure they comply with the relevant statutes. You don’t want to end up with an unenforceable deal.
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