Commercial Capital Resources, LLC v. Giovannetti, 955 So.2d 1151 (Fla. 3d DCA Mar 28, 2007)
So you’ve been negotiating a settlement of contentious litigation for over 10 hours, it’s now late into the night and you’ve finally got what looks like a deal put together, and then you get handed a "draft" settlement agreement by the mediator (who happens to be a senior judge with a zillion years of experience under his belt). You don’t want to be the guy who mucks up the deal at the last minute, and you don’t want to be disrespectful to the judge, but the settlement agreement doesn’t seem to get the trustee release language right. The release language seems to focus on the trustee as an individual, vs. a fiduciary representing a trust estate and its beneficiaries. Here’s what the release language says:
[Trustee], CCR … and all other named parties and defendants joined in the pending litigation will execute general releases in favor of [Giovannetti]…. [Giovannetti] … will execute general releases in favor of [Trustee], CCR … and all other named parties and defendants joined in the pending litigation…. [Trustee] agrees that in his capacity as “trustee” of any trust … without prejudice to his fiduciary obligations or duty to provide proper and necessary notice and disclosures to investors, that he will refrain from taking any action [sic] initiate or to solicit the investors to initiate a law suit against [Giovannetti], and that if any such action is brought against [Giovannetti], [Trustee] will resign as trustee from any trust involved in or bringing the action.
As the linked-to case shows, the professionals who signed off on this deal ended up back in court and eventually before an appellate court . . . all after executing a settlement agreement they probably all assumed was meant to end the litigation once and for all (what their clients were thinking is anyone’s guess).
In retrospect, one could say that the settlement agreement litigated in the linked-to case was fundamentally flawed because it focused on the trustee as an individual vs. as a fiduciary virtually representing trust beneficiaries. But that would be a cheap shot. In reality, what probably happened here is that the lawyers were under pressure to draft a technically demanding settlement agreement late at night, after hours of intensive negotiation. I’ve done this myself and lived to regret it. The true lesson from this case (which I’m still working on) is that you want to draft the key portions of your settlement agreement in advance . . . when you’re NOT subject to the pressure and stress of the moment.