Court Describes Appeal As “A Tempest In A Teapot.”
Teapot with cherry or plum blossoms. Between 1750 and 1850. Library of Congress.
California has a convenient procedure for enforcing settlement agreements: Code of Civil Procedure, section 664.6. This allows a court to retain jurisdiction of a dismissed case for the purpose of enforcing a settlement agreement. A request to dismiss must be made orally on the record, or in writing signed by the parties, while the case is pending. The advantage of the procedure is that the party seeking enforcement need not file a new lawsuit to do so.
In Fidelity National Title Insurance Company v. Zuckerman, B265557 (2/3 12/7/16) (Stratton, Edmon, Aldrich) (unpublished), the written Settlement Agreement signed by the parties, and providing for the court’s retention of jurisdiction, was not filed with the court. And -- you guessed it -- when plaintiff Fidelity moved in 2015 to enforce the settlement, the defendants objected that the court lacked jurisdiction. Defendants argued there was no evidence in the record that there was an oral request to retain jurisdiction, nor was a writing signed by all the parties presented to the court before dismissal occurred in 2008.
The Court of Appeal disagreed. True, a fully executed settlement requesting retention of jurisdiction had not been filed with the court because the agreement was to be kept confidential. However, a filed Stipulation for Judgment, referring to previous entry of dismissals, did state the court would retain jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal refused to construe the requirement that a “request” be made during the pendency of the case to mean that the request had to be filed as an actual pleading with the court before dismissal. Here, the request had indeed been fully executed prior to the dismissal. Also, a Stipulation for Dismissal of Action and Reservation of Jurisdiction by the Court, signed by counsel, referenced the Settlement Agreement, stating that its terms were confidential, and that it provided for the Court’s retention of jurisdiction, had been filed. That was enough. For good measure, the Court of Appeal added that because Defendants filed an ex parte application for dismissal and reservation of the court’s jurisdiction, they were estopped from arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction.
COMMENT: The case is unpublished and therefore not citable as authority. The safest approach would be to have a fully executed agreement to retain jurisdiction filed with the court prior to dismissal – and then such tempests in a teacup would be avoided.