July 18, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Promissory Note Void When Issued in Exchange for Leniency in Criminal Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rademacher v. Becker on Thursday, September 24, 2015.

Settlement Agreement—Promissory Note— Criminal Action—Void Against Public Policy.

Defendant and plaintiff were involved in a 10-year extramarital relationship. During a confrontation, defendant’s wife threw coffee on plaintiff and kicked over the chair she was sitting in. Wife was criminally charged with assault. After negotiating with plaintiff, defendant entered into a settlement wherein plaintiff agreed not to pursue any claims against wife or defendant and to ask the district attorney’s office to offer wife a deferred sentence. In exchange for these promises, defendant executed a $300,000 promissory note payable to plaintiff. At the same meeting where the settlement agreement was signed, plaintiff signed a letter to the district attorney indicating her desire that wife be offered a deferred sentence. Plaintiff later filed suit to enforce the note, and the jury found in favor of plaintiff. Defendant appealed.

An agreement in which money or other valuable consideration is paid in exchange for a crime victim’s efforts to obtain leniency in connection with a criminal charge is void as against Colorado public policy. Here, counsel for both plaintiff and defendant acknowledged that part of the consideration for the settlement payment was the settlement of the pending criminal matter. Because at least part of the consideration for execution of the settlement agreement and promissory note was given in an attempt to hinder or stifle the plenary prosecution against wife, the entire agreement and promissory note are void. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court to dismiss the action.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Settlement Agreement Not “Payment” and Therefore Does Not Toll Statute of Limitations

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Stoesz v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Underinsured Motorist Benefits—Statute of Limitations—Meaning of “Payment”—Summary Judgment.

Plaintiff Stoesz, an insured of defendant (State Farm), was injured when an underinsured motorist rear-ended her car. Three days before the statutorily required three-year limitations period expired, Stoesz sent an e-mail to the underinsured motorist’s liability insurer, Progressive Insurance Company (Progressive), confirming a policy limits settlement. Shortly after the limitations period had ended, State Farm approved the settlement at Stoesz’s request. Within two years of receiving the settlement payment from Progressive, Stoesz commenced this action to recover underinsured motorist benefits from State Farm. The trial court entered summary judgment against Stoesz on the basis that this settlement agreement did not constitute payment that would have extended the limitations period for an additional two years. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

On appeal, State Farm argued that, pursuant to CRS § 13-80-107.5(1)(b), payment must be made during the three-year limitations period, which was not met here, and a tolling agreement between Progressive and Stoesz did not affect its rights. The Court agreed. Under the clear wording of the statute, an insured is allowed an additional two years only if the underlying bodily injury liability claim against the underinsured motorist has been preserved by commencing an action against the underinsured motorist or by payment of either the liability claim settlement or judgment. No action was commenced and no payment occurred within the limitations period. The summary judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Employment Discrimination Settlement Agreement Enforceable; Extended Time to File Notice of Appeal Applies When Judgment Not Entered in Separate Document

The Tenth Circuit published its opinion in Walters v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. on Tuesday, January 8, 2013.

Bennie Walters brought employment discrimination claims against his former employer, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Wal-Mart”). The parties reached an apparent settlement during a settlement conference and signed a document entitled “Settlement Terms,” that set forth the key terms of the agreement, indicating a fuller agreement was to be prepared within 20 days. Walters later refused to sign the final agreement. The district court granted Wal-Mart’s motion to enforce the agreement and denied Walters’ motion for reconsideration but did not enter the judgment in a separate document. The court did, however, enter a “Minute Sheet” on the docket, but that unsigned document did not indicate that Wal-Mart’s motion had been granted.

Wal-Mart argued that Walters’ appeal was untimely because it was filed more than 30 days after the minute sheet entry and F.R.A.P. 4(a) requires a notice of appeal be filed within 30 days after a judgment is entered. F.R.C.P. 58(a) requires that a judgment must be set out in a separate document. The Tenth Circuit held that the unsigned minute sheet was not a separate judgment so Walters’ time for appeal was governed by F.R.C.P. 58(c)(2), which gave him 150 days to file a notice of appeal. The denial of Walters’ motion for reconsideration also did not start the clock. When no separate judgment has been entered, “an appellant remains entitled to the extended deadline for filing a notice of appeal even if he files a motion for reconsideration before the judgment is deemed ‘entered’ under F.R.C.P. 58(c).”

Once the court determined it had jurisdiction, it reviewed the district court’s decision to enforce the settlement agreement for abuse of discretion and found none. Under Oklahoma contract law, “[a] party generally may not repudiate a settlement agreement absent fraud, duress, undue influence, or mistake.” The court found no duress. The court also rejected Walters’ claim that he was improperly denied the 21 days to consider the settlement included in the final agreement. The provision was included in order to comply with the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (“OWBPA”). Because the OWBPA 21-day consideration period for a valid waiver of an age discrimination claim does not apply to settlement of court cases, the agreement was not unenforceable on that basis. Because Walters did not challenge Wal-Mart’s compliance with OWBPA’s requirements that do apply to court cases, he waived that argument. The court affirmed the district court.