The Third District Court of Appeal’s February 12, 2020 opinion in Metalonis v. Eastgroup Properties, Inc. provides jurisdictional considerations with respect to settlement of a lawsuit.
In Metalonis, appeal was taken from the trial court’s order which granted Eastgroup Properties Inc.’s emergency motion to compel compliance with the settlement agreement entered into concerning a piece of real property. The agreement required payment by Eastgroup to Metalonis in the amount of $2.45 million, and in exchange, Metalonis would dismiss his lawsuit and the parties would exchange releases.
After payment, Metalonis did not dismiss his case and Eastgroup filed an emergency motion to compel compliance with the agreement.
The trial court granted the motion, required the parties to execute releases and to file the voluntary dismissal based on the terms of the agreement. The order specified that if Metalonis did not file the voluntary dismissal, the court would dismiss the case with prejudice. Following the entry of the order, the parties finalized their releases and Metalonis filed his voluntary dismissal. After that, the trial court closed the case by its ministerial entry of an order of dismissal.
Metalonis then sought an appeal of the order granting the emergency motion to compel.
The Third District Court of Appeal, in reliance upon their opinion from 2019 in Clarke-Morales v. Coca-Cola Refreshments USA, Inc., held that the voluntary dismissal terminated the lawsuit. Therefore the trial court was divested of jurisdiction and the appellate court was thus without jurisdiction to review pre-dismissal orders of the trial court. By filing his dismissal and not exercising his appellate remedies, Metalonis divested the appellate court from jurisdiction to review the trial court’s order on the motion to compel.
When parties enter into a settlement agreement, the parties should consider the possibility of noncompliance with its terms by another party. Often times, probate and trust lawyers will seek approval of a settlement agreement from the court, asking the trial court to retain jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the agreement. Then, if a party then does not comply with the terms of the agreement, that party can move the trial court to compel compliance. A dismissal would prevent a party from being able to seek that enforcement or challenge earlier rulings.
If faced with a settlement agreement in a probate or trust matter, you should speak with an experienced probate and trust lawyer who can appropriately advise you as to its terms and the requirements and pitfalls involved with compliance.