Enforcing Minutes of Settlement – What Happens When a Settlement Goes Wrong?
Whether as a result of the increased prevalence of mediation and alternative dispute resolution in the legal profession today, or as a result of the ever increasing costs of litigation, more cases seem to settle today than ever before. With settlement often comes Minutes of Settlement, and if all goes to plan, a relatively peaceful conclusion to the legal process. But what happens if subsequent to signing Minutes of Settlement one of the parties refuses to abide by the agreement? What options are available to an aggrieved party to ensure that what they agreed to actually comes to fruition?
Rule 49.09 of the Rules of Civil Procedure provides that where a party to an accepted offer fails to comply with the terms of the offer, the other party may make a motion to a judge for judgment in the terms of the accepted offer. The effect of turning the settlement into a judgment of the court is to gain access to the enforcement mechanisms available pursuant to the Rules of Civil Procedure. These include Writs of Seizure and Sale for monetary awards, and contempt orders should the party in breach continue to refuse to abide by the settlement.
Turning the settlement into an order of the court is not the only mechanism available to enforce the Minutes of Settlement against a party in breach.Olivieri v. Sherman, a 2007 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal, provides that a settlement agreement is a contract, and as such is subject to the general laws of contract. So long as the court is satisfied that at the time the settlement was entered into the parties (a) had a mutual intention to create a legally binding contract; and (b) reached agreement on all of the essential terms of the settlement, the court will find that a valid contract exists between the parties. As a valid contract exists between the parties, the general remedies available for a breach of contract are available in the event that one of the parties refuses to abide by the settlement. These remedies include damages in the event that the settlement concerned a monetary award, or specific performance in the event that the settlement concerned specific actions such as the return of property.
Thankfully, in my experience, most people tend to enter into settlement agreements in good faith, and will more often than not abide by what they agreed to. Between Rule 49.09 and the general remedies for breach of contract however, should you find yourself in the situation where a party refuses to abide by a settlement agreement, there are options available to remedy it.
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