Tag: minutes of settlement
Sometimes when parties arrive at a settlement, notwithstanding that the settlement may objectively be in their interests, they may not necessarily be pleased with the outcome. If the settlement has been concluded and fully documented, however, a party who has had second thoughts will likely be out of luck if they want to avoid complying with the agreement. This is important because parties should usually be held to the bargains that they make in a settlement.
A settlement does not necessarily have to be in writing to be valid, but like any contract, there must be a “meeting of the minds” on the essential terms of the agreement.
In a recent decision, Daehn v Lalonde, 2021 ONSC 301, the court considered a motion to enforce a settlement where draft minutes of settlement had been exchanged, but not signed. The dispute between the parties underlying the settlement concerned the validity of competing Wills. The parties were engaged in negotiations between January and July 2019, during which time several offers and versions of draft minutes of settlement were exchanged. In mid-July, counsel for the responding parties to the motion advised the moving party that he would no longer be acting for the responding parties, and retracted all offers to settle made by the responding parties.
The moving party took the position that certain conduct by counsel for the responding parties should be taken as akin to acceptance of terms in the minutes of settlement. Such conduct included providing bank statements that had been requested as a condition of settlement, and proposing changes to some terms of the draft minutes without complaint about others. The court did not accept this argument, and did not find acceptance of the agreement by words or conduct of the responding parties.
The court briefly reviewed the law regarding validity and enforcement of settlements. Like a contract, a concluded settlement requires both a mutual intention to create a legally binding contract, and agreement on all essential terms of the settlement.
The court found that the responding parties never agreed to the terms of settlement. Despite the moving party’s argument that the responding parties had agreed to the sole “essential” term, the court found that it cannot be the case that the moving party alone can dictate what terms of the settlement are essential. The court concluded that a settlement cannot be imposed where no agreement was reached.
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I have previously blogged about the need to have any settlement which affects the interests of a party under a “legal disability”, whether on account of them being a minor or otherwise, to be approved by the court in accordance with rule 7.08 of the Rules of Civil Procedure before the settlement is binding upon the party under a disability. Although rule 7.08 is clear what materials need to be included in any Motion to approve a settlement, with affidavits being required both from the incapable person’s litigation guardian as well as the litigation guardian’s lawyer outlining why they believe the settlement should be approved, what is less clear is the actual procedure by which such a Motion is brought before the court.
There has been some debate recently about whether in Toronto a Motion to approve a settlement should be brought in writing or if they should be brought before a Judge in person. The apparent confusion appears to be caused by what appear to be competing instructions that are contained in the practice direction for the Toronto Region as well as the practice direction for the Estates List, with one appearing to tell you to bring the Motion in writing and the other appearing to tell you to do the opposite.
The general practice direction for the Toronto Region provides the following regarding an approval Motion under rule 7.08:
“A motion under Rule 7.08 must be brought in accordance with the Best Practice’s Guidelines and Checklist for rule 7.08 matters.”
The Best Practice’s Guidelines and Checklist in turn provides:
“Rule 7.08 requires the approval of a judge for any proposed settlement on behalf of a party under a disability. This is done by way of a motion made in writing or if no action has been commenced, then the approval of a judge is obtained by way of an application. In Toronto, Rule 7 motions and applications are to be filed as in-writing motions through the civil intake office, in the motions department.” [emphasis added]
The checklist appears clear that if you are bringing a motion to approve a settlement in Toronto that it is to be done in writing. As a result, if your matter is subject to the general Toronto practice direction, it would appear fairly clear that your approval Motion must be brought in writing.
Although the general Toronto practice direction appears clear that approval Motions are to be brought in writing, many, if not most, estates matters in Toronto are adjudicated on the specialized Estates List. The general Toronto practice direction notes that it does not apply to matters on the Estates List unless it is specifically mentioned, stating:
“This Practice Direction does not apply to motions or applications heard on the Commercial and Bankruptcy Lists, Estates List, or under the Class Proceedings Act, 1992, unless specifically mentioned.” [emphasis added]
There appears to be no reference in the general Toronto practice direction that the “in writing” rule for approval Motions is to apply to matters on the Estates List. As a result, it would appear that such a rule does not apply to matters on the Estates List, and that we are to revert to any direction provided in the Estates List practice direction regarding approval Motions.
The Estates List practice direction provides the following regarding how approval motions are to be brought before the court:
“Where the settlement of a proceeding on the Estates List requires court approval, the motion for approval of the settlement and the application for the appointment of a guardian of property should be brought before a judge on the Estates List.” [emphasis added]
There is no reference in the Estates List practice direction to the approval motion having to be brought in writing, with the practice direction simply stating that it has to be brought “before a judge”. Although a technical reading of such a direction may suggest that a matter could be brought “before a judge” in writing, in the absence of any specific bar to bringing the approval Motion before a Judge in person, and as Judges often have questions about a settlement before granting their approval, it would appear that absent any additional direction from the court that approval motions on the Estates List can (and probably should) still be brought before a Judge in person.
The result of all of this appears to suggest that if you are seeking the approval of a settlement in Toronto and your matter is on the general civil list that you have to bring the approval motion in writing. If you matter is on the Estates List however it would appear likely that you can continue to bring your approval Motions in person before a Judge. Matters in jurisdictions outside of Toronto should consult with your local practice direction for any direction regarding how they may want you to bring any approval Motions.
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At what point does a settlement become final? Is it when the parties agree on all of the terms of the settlement and sign a written agreement, such as minutes of settlement? Or at an earlier time?
In the recent decision of Cox v Baker, 2019 ONSC 2859, the court was asked to make a determination as to whether a binding settlement had been reached. The litigation involved an inter vivos trust (the “Trust”) settled by a mother for the benefit of her two daughters and subsequent generations. After the death of Donna (the second to die of the two daughters), the three living beneficiaries were Donna’s sons, Brett and Brent, and her niece, Marnie. Brett was the sole trustee after Donna’s death.
Prior to her death, Donna was living at a house that was owned by the Trust (the “Property”), with her husband, John. About a year after Donna’s death, in March 2018, John brought an application against Brett, as trustee of the Trust, and against all three of the beneficiaries, personally, seeking, among other things, an interest in the Property by way of resulting and/or constructive trust.
In May 2018, John and Brett ran into each other at Donna’s gravesite. They discussed John’s application, John advised Brett that he would call his lawyer and withdraw his application, and the two shook hands. Thereafter, a number of emails were exchanged between counsel for John, and counsel for Brett, Brent, and Marnie. It appeared that the parties had reached an agreement that John would withdraw his application, without costs, provided that all parties sign a mutual release. However, John subsequently took the position that there was never a binding settlement agreement, as the parties had not agreed on the specific terms of the mutual release. Brett, Brent, and Marnie brought an application to enforce the settlement.
Ultimately, the court concluded that a binding settlement had been reached. Some of the key factors were, in the court’s finding, that there had been a mutual intention between the parties to create a legally binding contract, and that all essential/material terms had been agreed upon. The court also noted that the agreement had been reduced to writing by way of the email exchanges between counsel.
The court specifically considered whether the fact that the parties had not yet agreed on the specific wording of the mutual release was necessary to create a binding settlement. After reviewing the case law, the court concluded that, unless there is some indication that the settlement was conditional on the parties also agreeing on the language for a release, it is not required that the parties agree on the specific terms of such a release before there will be said to be a binding settlement agreement.
The court also commented on the importance of the principle of finality, which demands that settlements entered into with the assistance of legal counsel be upheld, as it is a matter of good public policy to encourage settlement. Settlements of this kind should be upheld other than in exceptional cases, which the present case was not.
This decision is an important reminder that, if the parties have reached an agreement on all essential terms, even if the more minor details have not been agreed upon, and the minutes of settlement and/or release have not been finalized and executed, a binding settlement may still exist. Parties should be aware that once a binding settlement has been reached (which could happen prior to signing minutes of settlement), they cannot simply change their minds. It is important to keep this in mind at all stages of a negotiation, and to be alert as to when it could be said that all essential terms have been agreed upon.
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Estate litigation can be costly both financially and emotionally. As a result, there is often a strong incentive for parties to try to reach a negotiated settlement. Although entering into a settlement which resolves the estate litigation may appear straightforward from the outside, it may become more complicated if all potential financially interested parties are not signatories to the settlement. It is not uncommon in estate litigation for all beneficiaries of the estate to not actively participate in the litigation, leaving it to people such as the Estate Trustee or the other beneficiaries to defend a claim. As a settlement is in effect a contract between parties, if a settlement is reached which affects the interests of a non-signatory to the settlement can such a settlement bind the interests of the non-signatory?
I have previously blogged about section 48(2) of the Trustee Act, and an Estate Trustee’s ability to settle claims on behalf of the estate which can bind the interests of the beneficiaries. While section 48(2) would allow the Estate Trustee to bind the interests of all beneficiaries to the settlement, the Estate Trustee does so at their own potential liability, as it is possible that one or more of the beneficiaries may later challenge the decision of the Estate Trustee to enter into the settlement, potentially seeking damages against the Estate Trustee if they are of the position that the settlement was not reasonable or in the best interest of the estate. As a result of such a risk, it is not uncommon for an Estate Trustee to be hesitant to enter into a settlement on behalf of the estate in contentious situations, not wanting to potentially expose themselves to personal liability if one or more of the beneficiaries should later object to the terms of the settlement. If an Estate Trustee is hesitant to enter into a settlement on behalf of all beneficiaries, but all actively participating parties are otherwise in agreement with the settlement, is there a way to bind the interests of non-participating parties to the settlement?
The Rules of Civil Procedure provide the court with the ability to “approve” a settlement on behalf of parties who are not signatories under certain limited circumstances. This is done in accordance with rule 7.08 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, which allows the court to approve a settlement on behalf of a party who themselves cannot consent to the settlement on account of being under a legal disability (i.e. a minor). Perhaps importantly however, the court only has the authority under rule 7.08 to “approve” a settlement on behalf of a party under a legal disability, and rule 7.08 is not available in circumstances where the non-signatory is fully capable.
The Rules of Civil Procedure do not otherwise appear to provide any mechanism by which a settlement can be approved on behalf of a party who is not under a legal disability. As a result, if the non-signatory who you are you attempting to bind to the settlement is not under a legal disability, the court likely does not have the authority to “approve” the settlement on their behalf under the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Although the court likely does not have the ability to “approve” a settlement on behalf of an individual who is not under a legal disability in accordance with the Rules of Civil Procedure, this does not necessarily mean that there are no other ways to potentially bind the individual to a settlement. One potential solution may be to seek an Order “in accordance” with the terms of the settlement on notice to all interested parties. Should the court issue such an Order, which in effect repeats the terms of the settlement but as an Order of the court, the non-signatories would arguably then be bound to the terms of the settlement as it would now be in the form of an Order of the court.
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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.
Ian Hull – Click here for more information on Ian Hull.