Failure to Make Record Causes Reversal

The opening paragraphs of this opinion from the Supreme Court of Missouri sum up the case nicely:

"This case involves a motion to enforce a settlement agreement in a tort action. The Eatons contested the motion alleging they did not authorize the figure offered by their dismissed attorney that was accepted by the defendants.

The Eatons originally filed suit for property damage to their home allegedly caused by groundwater made toxic by waste discharged by a nuclear fuel processing operation conducted by the defendants. They refused to sign a proffered agreement on the basis that they never authorized the settlement figure and had dismissed their attorney.

The defendants filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement. The sole factual issue at the trial court was whether the Eatons’ attorney had authority to make a specific monetary offer to settle the lawsuit. The hearing on this motion was limited to "oral argument" by counsel. There was no transcript of the oral argument on the motion to enforce settlement – no record save for the bare legal file created in circuit court.

Concluding that the Eatons’ attorney had apparent authority to settle, the trial court entered judgment enforcing the settlement agreement. The Eatons appeal. This Court granted transfer after opinion by the Court of Appeals, Eastern District, and has jurisdiction. Mo. Const. article V, section 10. The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded."

The bottom line:  Always think about making a record.   Winning a motion (or a trial) doesn’t mean anything (except loss of time and money) if you don’t have a record that can stand appellate review.

The case is Jerry L. Eaton and Clarissa L. Eaton v. Mallinckrodt, Inc., et al., SC88122 (Missouri S. C. May 15, 2007).  Read the opinionhere.

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