Rachid v. Perez, — So.3d —-, 2010 WL 173776 (Fla. 3d DCA Jan 20, 2010)

We’ve all been there: you’ve been locked in mediation for hours and an unreasonable/ irrational litigant refuses to settle, even if – given the risks and benefits – it’s plain to everyone that he ought to accept the settlement offer on the table. The linked-to case addresses this type of situation.

Since most working probate lawyers will find themselves on both sides of this conundrum at one point or another in their career, I thought the best way to think about this case was from both perspectives.

Scenario 1: What if I represent the side that refuses to settle, no matter how reasonable the offer?

No matter how frustrating this situation may be, you have to fight the temptation to subtly “lean” on your client until he accepts a deal you know – without question – is in his best interest. When the dust settles and your unhappy client re-reads the settlement agreement he never really wanted to sign in the first place, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a malpractice lawsuit. Based on the following excerpt from the linked-to opinion, it looks like that’s where this case may be headed:

Here, Rachid does not claim that any party misled or induced her to enter into the settlement agreement. Rather, she contends that her attorney misled or induced her.

Blogger and mediator Victoria Pynchon expands here on the likely consequences of those cases where a litigant believes his lawyer “mislead or induced” him to accept a settlement offer.

Here’s the bad news. If a litigant is unhappy with the outcome of mediation, he or she is far more likely to bring a complaint (or lawsuit) against his or her own attorney.

In a 2006 article in the Ohio Journal on Dispute Resolution TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT. LUMP IT OR GRIEVE IT: DESIGNING MEDIATOR COMPLAINT SYSTEMS THAT PROTECT MEDIATORS, UNHAPPY PARTIES, ATTORNEYS, COURTS, THE PROCESS, AND THE FIELD Paula M. Young, Assistant Professor at the Appalachian School of Law cites Mel Rubin on “settle and sue” cases which Rubin suggests are on the rise among clients unhappy with the outcome of a mediation. Rubin “also suggests that if a client is unhappy with the outcome of mediation, he or she is more likely to sue his or her attorney for malpractice. Id.

The gist of Victoria’s advise – which I agree with – is to make sure your client feels he was treated fairly in mediation, that he wasn’t “ganged up on” by the mediator (or you), and that he walks away feeling he was ultimately in control of the final outcome. To that advice I would add: if you think your client is being irrational, the right thing to do may be to tell him to find a new lawyer. As the 3d DCA pointed out not too long ago in a case involving an out-of-control probate litigant, “’just say no’ applies to some clients and matters, just as to drugs” [click here].

Scenario 2: What if I represent the side that’s trying to enforce a settlement agreement?

If you’re counsel for the good guy, the last thing you want is protracted litigation to enforce a settlement agreement. To nip this sort of challenge in the bud, you’ll want to point the other side to the linked-to opinion and let him or her know that in the absence of truly outrageous circumstances, Florida law forces litigants to live with the deals they’ve struck . . . no matter how badly they may be suffering from buyer’s remorse.

First, Rachid’s burden when seeking rescission of a settlement agreement on this legal theory is a particularly difficult one. See Tilden Groves, 816 So.2d at 660 (“[C]ases settled in mediation are especially unsuited for the liberal application of a rule allowing rescission of a settlement agreement based on unilateral mistake.”); see also Sponga v. Warro, 698 So.2d 621, 625 (Fla. 5th DCA 1997).

Second, Rachid’s argument is without merit as the record does not support the legal remedy of rescission on the basis that the settlement agreement was the product of a unilateral mistake. Under Florida law, the party seeking rescission based on unilateral mistake must establish that:

(1) the mistake was induced by the party seeking to benefit from the mistake, (2) there is no negligence or want of due care on the part of the party seeking a return to the status quo, (3) denial of release from the agreement would be inequitable, and (4) the position of the opposing party has not so changed that granting the relief would be unjust.

Lechuga v. Flanigan’s Enters., Inc., 533 So.2d 856, 857 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988). Here, Rachid does not claim that any party misled or induced her to enter into the settlement agreement. Rather, she contends that her attorney misled or induced her. Thus, her claim fails as a matter of law. Rachid also cannot demonstrate that there was “no negligence or want of due care” on her part because she had an obligation to read and know the legal parameters regarding the validity and application of the prenuptial agreement prior to mediation. Leff v. Ecker, 972 So.2d 965 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007) (holding that where the plaintiff entered into a mediated settlement agreement with a limited knowledge of the relevant facts, the plaintiff bore the risk of mistake). Additionally, Rachid was represented by counsel at mediation, and she failed to demonstrate that denial of rescission would be inequitable or that granting relief would be unjust. Thus, we conclude that even if Rachid had properly preserved her claim of unilateral mistake, on appellate review her claim would have failed on the merits.

We . . . address the argument that Rachid did raise-that there was no meeting of the minds. As to the trial court’s rejection of this argument, we find no abuse of discretion. See Tanner v. Tanner, 975 So.2d 1190 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008) (holding that “ ‘[b]uyer’s remorse’ is not a sufficient basis for overturning a marital settlement agreement freely and voluntarily entered into”); see also BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Krathen, 471 So.2d 585 (Fla. 4th DCA 1985) (rejecting BMW’s appeal to set aside a judgment based on BMW’s failure to include a condition in its settlement offer). We therefore affirm the order under review.