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Oral Settlement in Court- The Party Must Be In Court, Their Attorney’s Statement Is Not Enough.

In a recent California case, a homeowner sued their community Homeowner’s Association (“HOA”) for failing to enforce the Conditions, Covenants, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). They also sued other homeowners, who supposedly violated the restrictions.

Apparently the parties had tentatively reached a settlement outside court just before the day of trial, so on the day of trial, the parties appeared in court to put the settlement on the record by reciting it orally in court (As allowed by Code of Civil Procedure §664.6). However, the HOA representative did not appear- their attorney was there to represent them. Later, the homeowners decided they did not like the terms of the settlement, and would not agree to it, so the HOA sued to enforce it.

Section 664.4 states “If parties to pending litigation stipulate, in a writing signed by the parties outside the presence of the court or orally before the court, for settlement of the case, or part thereof, the court, upon motion, may enter judgment pursuant to the terms of the settlement.” The question was what the legislature meant when it used the term ‘parties.’ The court noted that in other contexts the term party includes the litigant’s attorney, but settlement is such a serious step that ends the lawsuit, and requires the client’s express consent. It thus restricted the meaning of party to be the actual litigant themselves. As there was no authorized representative of the HOA in court, the settlement was unenforceable.

Tough luck for the HOA board, who were probably all volunteers, and did not want to take a week of work for the trial.
Critzer v. Enos (2010) 187 CalApp. 4th 1242.

Law Office of James J. Falcone