California Court Of Appeal Cracks Down On Non-Compliant Requests For Trial Courts To Retain Jurisdiction To Enforce Settlement Agreements

Author:Mr Remy Kessler and Garrett C. Parks
Profession:Reed Smith

On March 29, 2019, a California Court of Appeal held that a trial court did not retain jurisdiction under Code of Civil Procedure section 664.6 to enforce a settlement agreement after dismissal of the underlying lawsuit because the parties did not comply with the strict requirements of section 664.6. At first blush, the decision in Mesa RHF Partners, L.P. v. City of Los Angeles (Mesa) may not seem significant; however, the court's holding now requires litigants and their counsel to consider modifying the procedures they typically use to settle and dismiss cases, at least to the extent they want the trial court to retain jurisdiction to later enforce their settlement agreements if that becomes necessary.

Section 664.6 allows for parties to file a stipulation to allow a trial court to retain jurisdiction over a dismissed case to enforce a settlement agreement "in a writing signed by the parties." In Mesa, the parties resolved a dispute and indicated in their settlement agreement that "[t]he Court shall retain jurisdiction pursuant to [section 664.6] to enforce the terms of the Settlement Agreement." As is often done, counsel for the plaintiffs then signed and filed a request for dismissal on a printed court form. Counsel even went so far as to insert language on the form that stated the trial court would retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement under section 664.6.

A dispute eventually arose between the parties relating to the terms of the settlement agreement, and the plaintiffs filed a motion under section 664.6 to have the trial court enforce the agreement. The trial court, however, denied the motion, and the plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement because "[t]he requests for dismissal were not signed by the parties (or even a single party) as that term in section 664.6 has been uniformly construed by California courts."

Because the voluntary dismissal of litigation terminates the court's jurisdiction over the matter, the Court of Appeal stated that section...

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