SW Legal studies in Business

Pressure by Mediator Is Improper and Can Justify Setting Aside Settlement
Description Appeals court held that if the complaints by a party to a mediated settlement were true–that the mediator used coercion to get her to agree to a settlement she did not want to make–then the agreement would be set aside since a mediator, in court-ordered mediation, is an officer of the court and may not use improper tactics.
Topic Alternate Dispute Resolution
Key Words Mediation; Misconduct
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Kalliope and David Valchine began divorce proceedings. They attended court-ordered mediation to attempt to resolve their dispute. At mediation, both parties were represented by counsel. Mediation resulted in a 23 page marital settlement agreement that covered all essential matters. A month later, Kalliope moved to set aside the agreement, contending that she had been coerced by her husband, her husband's attorney and the mediator. The judge rejected the motion; Kalliope appealed.
Decision

Reversed. "As a general rule ... a contract or settlement may not be set aside on the basis of duress or coercion unless the improper influence emanated from one of the contracting parties–the actions of a third party will not suffice. In this case, the record adequately supports the finding that neither the husband nor the husband's attorney was involved in any duress...." However, the alleged misconduct by the mediator was a valid basis for the court to set aside the agreement. The mediator was acting as an agent of the court in court-ordered mediation and, if Kalliope's assertions are true, the mediator abused his position. She testified that the mediator threatened to report her to the judge for failing to agree to a reasonable settlement offer and he told her that even if she signed the agreement that she did not like, she could protest those provisions at the final hearing. If the trial court finds merit to Kalliope's complaints, then the mediator substantially violated the Rules for Mediators and the settlement must be set aside.

Citation Vitakis-Valchine v. Valchine, 2001 WL 953412 (Dist. Ct. App., Fla., 2001)

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