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Requests to Enforce/Compel Settlement

Most lawsuits are resolved without a trial. Cases usually either settle or result in a judgment/dismissal before a contested trial. With cases that result in a settlement, there are often communications between attorneys leading up to the execution of a more formal settlement agreement. There are instances in which an agreement is reached and then one party tries to back out before execution. If certain facts are present, the Court may, upon the request of one party, enforce and compel the settlement agreement between the parties, even without the presence of a more formal written agreement.

A motion to enforce/compel a settlement agreement is in effect a specific performance claim made to the Court. It argues that there is a valid settlement agreement/contract that was created and that the Court should bind the non-compliant party and require the party to observe the terms of the agreement. The party making the request must prove that the contract exists by clear, convincing and satisfactory evidence. This means that there must be clear evidence of all of the valid elements of a contract: offer, acceptance and consideration. Further, a contract will be valid and enforceable even if some terms may be missing or left to be agreed upon as long as the essential terms are sufficiently definite to enable the court to give them exact meaning. Importantly, an attorney in charge of a case has implied authority from a client to enter into any stipulation for the control of the progress of the action. Wenneker v. Frager, 448 S.W.2d 932, 947 (Mo. Ct. App. 1969). Therefore, the compromise of a pending suit by an attorney having apparent authority will generally bind a client. Id.

From experience, courts are generally inclined to grant these motions. When attorneys are present in a case, the dispute usually centers on oral and written communciations between attorneys and whether such communciations and documentation evidence the creation of an agreement. Again, because attorneys act on behalf of a client, they may bind a client through their communications. Based on the foregoing, it is extremely important for both attorneys and parties to be cautious with their settlement communications and be cognizant that the inartful use of language may result in a court finding that a settlement agreement is created.