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Crowley v. Germany

Supreme Court of Mississippi

December 13, 2018

MICHAEL TODD CROWLEY AND EDWARD BLACKMON, JR.
v.
ROBERT G. GERMANY AND PITTMAN, GERMANY, ROBERTS & WELSH, LLP ASHLEY DEJANAE STOWERS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARY OF RODNEY SANDRELL STOWERS AND DELIE M. SHEPARD, INDIVIDUALLY AND ASADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF RODNEY SANDRELL STOWERS, AND ON BEHALF OF ALL THE WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF RODNEY SANDRELL STOWERS
v.
ROBERT G. GERMANY, BOTH INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AGENT/EMPLOYEE/REPRESENTATIVE /PARTNER ASSOCIATE/OFFICE/DIRECTOR OF PITTMAN, GERMANY, ROBERTS & WELSH, L.L.P. AND PITTMAN, GERMANY, ROBERTS & WELSH, L.L.P.

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/27/2017

          HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. STEPHEN B. SIMPSON JUDGE.

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: MICHAEL TODD CROWLEY FRED KRUTZ, III DANIEL J. MULHOLLAND R. DAVID KAUFMAN JOSEPH ANTHONY SCLAFANI STUART ROBINSON, JR.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: MICHAEL TODD CROWLEY EDWARD BLACKMON, JR.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: DANIEL J. MULHOLLAND FRED KRUTZ

          BEFORE RANDOLPH, P.J., KING AND ISHEE, JJ.

          ISHEE, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. This case concerns release language in a settlement agreement. We must determine if the circuit court abused its discretion by enforcing a settlement agreement using specific release language that required the Plaintiffs' attorneys' signatures. Finding that the circuit court abused its discretion, we reverse the Order Enforcing Settlement Agreement and Judgment of Dismissal and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. This case began as a legal malpractice action by Delie Shepard and Ashley Stowers (the Plaintiffs) against Robert Germany and his law firm, Pittman, Germany, Roberts & Welsh, LLP. Shepard and Stowers were represented by Michael Crowley and Edward Blackmon; Germany and his firm were represented by Fred Krutz and Daniel Mulholland. After several years of litigation and mediation, the parties reached a settlement. In the settlement, Shepard and Stowers agreed "to execute a Full and Complete Release." The parties agreed to and memorialized the essential terms of their settlement in an email exchange. Although the essential terms were agreed upon, Crowley's email to Krutz did not specify the precise language of the "Full and Complete Releases."

         ¶3. The proposed release required signatures from Crowley and Blackmon, the Plaintiffs' attorneys. The specific language in the proposed release was "Agreed to and Approved By . . . ." After additional discussion, this language was eventually changed to "Approved By Michael Todd Crowley And Edward Blackmon Jr. In Their Capacity As Lawyers For [the Plaintiffs]." Crowley and Blackmon still refused to sign the releases because they were concerned that signing such a release would have been interpreted to mean that they were parties to the settlement agreement, resulting in personal liability and a potential obligation to indemnify.

¶4. After further exchanges, Shepard and Stowers proposed alternative releases, reflecting Crowley's and Blackmon's willingness to sign the releases as to the form but not the content of the releases. Germany rejected the alternative releases, insisting on the language proposed by his attorneys.

         ¶5. Then, the parties returned to court. Believing that the parties had a meeting of the minds on the essential terms of the settlement in the email exchange, Germany moved to enforce the settlement agreement using the release language proposed by his attorneys. Shepard and Stowers later filed their own motion to enforce the settlement agreement using their proposed releases. Before Shepard and Stowers filed their motion, the circuit court held a hearing on Germany's motion to enforce the settlement agreement. The circuit court entered an Order Enforcing Settlement Agreement and Judgment of Dismissal.

ΒΆ6. Shepard and Stowers then filed a motion for findings of fact and conclusions of law under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a). The circuit court denied the motion. Unsatisfied with the order enforcing the settlement agreement, which required their signature on the releases, Crowley and Blackmon filed an emergency petition for writ of prohibition with this Court, which was ordered to be treated as a Notice of Appeal. They later filed a notice of appeal in the underlying case on behalf of Shepard and Stowers. ...


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