Stipulated Judgment May Not Have Contained Magic Words, But It Was Sufficient To Express Parties’ Intent To Waive Confidentiality And Allow Enforcement
Daly v. Oyster, B249255 (2/1 July 29, 2014) (Chaney, Johnson, Wiley) (published) deals with that nettlesome situation that sometimes arises after mediation when papers are not filed with the court, the case is eventually dismissed, and one of the parties then seeks to enforce the settlement. Does the confidentiality of mediation prevent introduction of the stipulated judgment into evidence? Has a party simply waited too long to enforce the agreement? Has the court lost jurisdiction to enforce?
In 1981 Joanne Daly and David Oyster married. In 2004 they separated. In 2005, Daly filed a marital dissolution petition. In June 2006, the parties entered into a stipulated judgment following mediation. In May 2011, the superior court dismissed Daly's petition for lack of prosecution. In June 2011, Daly filed a second dissolution petition to enforce the stipulated judgment. Apparently wanting to open up the proceedings and seek modifications, Oyster objected to admission of the stipulated judgment on the ground it was protected by the mediation privilege, Evid. Code section 1119.
The Court of Appeal, however, disagreed with Oyster. One exception to mediation confidentiality is a written settlement agreement providing “that it is admissible or subject to disclosure or that it is enforceable or binding, or words to that effect.” That little tail -- “words to that effect” – means that magic words are not necessary. It is enough if the terms unambiguously signify the parties’ intent to disclose the agreement or be bound by it. Such was the case here: “The parties agreed the court would enforce the document, which it could not do unless the document was disclosed to it.”
Did the time to enforce the stipulated settlement run out, given that the divorce took longer than five years, and the underlying case was dismissed after five years? No – there was no authority that the statute of limitations for asserting breach of the agreement created a deadline for seeking to enforce it. But for good measure, even if a statute of limitations was running, Daly could have filed the stipulation until the case was dismissed in June 2011, after which she would have had four years to sue for breach of a written agreement.
PRACTICE TIP: Include language that your settlement agreement, achieved through mediation, is admissible, subject to disclosure to the court, enforceable, and binding, and you eliminate one problem encountered by Daly.