TRIAL COURT EXCEEDED ITS JURISDICTION TO ENFORCE THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF A MEDIATED SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT WHEN IT EXTENDED THE DEADLINE FOR PERFORMANCE UNDER THE AGREEMENT.
Pinero v. Zapata, 45 Fla. L Weekly D1981 (Fla. 3rd DCA August 18, 2020):
After litigating a matter for sixteen months, the parties entered into a settlement agreement. Pursuant to its unambiguous terms, the defendant was to tender $200,000.00 to the plaintiff by a certain date and if she failed to do so, she had an automatic one-month extension to pay the settlement sum. In the event that the money was not tendered by the second month, the agreement stated the defendant would then relinquish her interest in the subject properties by a quitclaim deed. If the defendant did pay the settlement sum by the agreed deadline, she was then required to obtain refinancing on the properties to relieve the plaintiff of any further financial obligation by a certain date.
The parties did not include a provision for any further extensions beyond the express provision for a single extension as set forth. They did not add a provision for impossibility, an act of God, or any term that might alter the mandatory language. To the contrary, there was a merger clause that underscored their intention to exclude other terms from the agreement.
The trial court approved the agreement by joint motion and dismissed the case, reserving jurisdiction to enforce its terms. However, because the agreement was entered right before the pandemic broke out, the trial court observed the dire circumstances present because of it (these dates were to be met in April, May and June of 2020), and granted an extension.
The trial court was obligated to enforce the mediated settlement Agreement as voluntarily agreed to by the parties, and this ruling essentially voided its provisions, which was not permissible. As such, because the defendant did not keep up her end of the bargain, the penalty provisions kicked in, and the trial court erred in ruling otherwise.