This case arises from an alleged settlement agreement between the parties regarding the underlying litigation in this real property dispute. Plaintiffs and defendants are neighbors, with defendants’ property bordering the eastern boundary line of plaintiffs’ property. Plaintiffs purchased their property in 2019,1 and defendants acquired their property in 1997.
Plaintiffs alleged in their complaint that they sought to plant trees along the eastern boundary line of their property, but defendants interfered with these efforts.
Approximately three months into this litigation, plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce a settlement agreement the parties purportedly entered into to dispense of all the claims underlying the litigation. According to plaintiffs, the parties entered into a binding settlement agreement through an e-mail exchange between the parties’ respective counsel.
The attorney who represented defendants at that time sent an email to plaintiffs’ counsel. The email addressed issues concerning where defendants would agree to plaintiffs planting trees and locating other landscaping features relative to the driveway maintenance easement and the boundary line between the parties’ properties.
Plaintiffs’ counsel replied: With your acknowledgement below that the lynch pin of the settlement is obtaining a fully executed document in recordable form withdrawing the 5th modification to the declaration of restrictions and acknowledging that the original declaration of restrictions (not including the permanent easements) expired in 1999, the settlement offer is accepted. As you noted, without that, there is no settlement. Can you please share with me a draft of the two recordable documents that you propose under the terms of your email.
This email from plaintiff’s counsel also included the disclaimer at the bottom that this email does not establish a contract.
An attorney has the apparent authority to settle a lawsuit on behalf of his or her client.
An agreement or consent between the parties or their attorneys respecting the proceedings in an action is not binding unless it was made in open court, or unless evidence of the agreement is in writing, subscribed by the party against whom the agreement is offered or by that party’s attorney.
Defendants’ attorney responded by email and clearly declined to change the original offer to include the guaranteed result that plaintiff’s attorney requested.
In this case, because the parties never reached an agreement on the material terms related to the issues involving the Fifth Modification, original Declaration, and the agreement of other nonparties with respect to those matters, a contract was never formed.
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