California Code of Civil Procedure section 664.6 (“section 644.6”) provides: “If parties to pending litigation stipulate, in a writing signed by the parties outside the presence of the court or orally before the court, for settlement of the case, or part thereof, the court, upon motion, may enter judgment pursuant to the terms of the settlement. If requested by the parties, the court may retain jurisdiction over the parties to enforce the settlement until performance in full of the terms of the settlement.”
Upon a request by the parties, Section 664.6 essentially allows the trial court to retain jurisdiction over the parties after a voluntary dismissal for the purpose of summarily enforcing a settlement agreement in the event of a breach. This allows the non-breaching party to come back into court to have the court enforce the settlement agreement upon motion by the non-breaching party if another party fails to perform, thereby allowing the non-breaching party to avoid the hassle and expense of filing a separate breach of contract claim. Based upon a recent appellate court decision, the failure to meet the strictly construed requirements of section 644.6 can be very costly for clients—and risky for attorneys.
In Mesa RHF Partners, L.P. v. City of Los Angeles (2019) 33 Cal.App.5th 913, the Second District Court of Appeal recently held that a trial court lacked jurisdiction to enforce the parties’ settlement agreements under section 664.6, where the record did not reflect that the parties requested the trial court retain jurisdiction. There, the parties’1 signed settlement agreements included the following language: “The Court shall retain jurisdiction pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 664.6 to enforce the terms of the Settlement Agreement.” Thereafter, counsel for the plaintiffs filed their respective requests for dismissal on Judicial Council form CIV-110 containing the following language: “The Court shall retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement per Code of Civil Procedure § 664.6.”
Years later, a dispute arose as to whether the defendant had fully performed under the agreement. Plaintiffs filed motions to have the settlement agreements enforced under section 644.62 . The trial court denied plaintiffs motions on the merits and plaintiffs subsequently appealed. The Court of Appeal did not reach the merits of the trial court’s decision because the trial court lacked jurisdiction to even hear the motions. The Court of Appeal declined to construe the parties’ requests for dismissal as requests to retain jurisdiction under section 664.6, reasoning they “were not signed by the ‘parties’…as that term in section 644.6 has been uniformly construed by California courts.”
The Court of Appeal recognized the following requirements for settlement enforcement under section 644.6: “the request must be made (1) during the pendency of the case, not after the case has been dismissed in its entirety, (2) by the parties themselves, and (3) either in writing signed by the parties or orally before the court. The request must be express, not implied from other language and it must be clear and unambiguous.”
Although the parties’ settlement agreements included an express request for the trial court to retain jurisdiction under section 644.6 and were signed by the parties, the agreements were not filed with the court before a dismissal was entered. The voluntary dismissal forms were signed only by Plaintiffs’ attorneys, not by the parties. Despite all parties’ agreement that the trial court retained jurisdiction under section 644.6, the Court confirmed the necessity for strict compliance to section 644.6 given its summary nature.
As noted by the Court of Appeal, “the parties could have easily invoked section 664.6 by filing a stipulation and proposed order either attaching a copy of the settlement agreement and requesting that the trial court retain jurisdiction under section 664.6 or a stipulation and proposed order signed by the parties noting the settlement and requesting that the trial court retain jurisdiction under section 664.6.” The parties could have also requested, on the record, that the trial court retain jurisdiction under section 664.6.
The moral of the story? For the trial court to retain jurisdiction to enforce a settlement agreement under section 644.6, the record must reflect the parties requested such retention—not their attorneys.