Interlocutory Appeal from the Cass Circuit Court The
Honorable Leo T. Burns, Judge Trial Court Cause No.
Attorneys for Appellant Crystal G. Rowe Alyssa C.B. Cochran
Kightlinger & Gray, LLP New Albany, Indiana Galen Bradley
Kightlinger & Gray, LLP Merrillville, Indiana
Attorney for Appellees Ryan D. Etter Ken Nunn Law Office
Coleman was injured in an automobile accident and filed a
negligence action against Jacob Todd. The parties'
attorneys engaged in negotiations and made a verbal agreement
to settle the case for $10, 000. The trial court initially
ordered Coleman to comply with the settlement agreement but
subsequently granted Coleman's motion to reconsider and
rescinded the original order. In this interlocutory appeal,
Todd asserts that Coleman is bound by the settlement
agreement and that the trial court therefore erred in
rescinding its order to compel compliance. We reverse and
and Procedural History
In July 2016, Coleman filed a negligence action against Todd
stemming from an August 2014 automobile accident in which she
was injured. Over the next eighteen months, the parties
scheduled three mediation sessions but completed none, due
largely to Coleman's nonattendance. In January 2018,
Coleman's counsel ("Counsel 1") negotiated with
counsel for Todd's insurer ("Insurer") to
settle all claims. Insurer's initial offer of $5000 was
increased via counteroffer to a $10, 000 settlement of all
claims. On February 2, 2018, Counsel 1 indicated that Coleman
had agreed to the $10, 000 figure, and Insurer began
preparing the necessary documents. On February 12, 2018,
Insurer filed a notice of settlement in the trial court. On
February 21, 2018, Counsel 1 sent Insurer a letter requesting
that the settlement check be issued. Two days later, Counsel
1 discovered that Coleman had hired another law firm
("Counsel 2") to represent her. Meanwhile, Insurer
sent the settlement documents to Counsel 1, who informed
Insurer about the change of representation and forwarded the
documents to Counsel 2 with a letter apprising Counsel 2 of
the accepted settlement offer.
During the next couple months, Todd learned that Coleman no
longer wanted to settle the case. On April 19, 2018, Todd,
through Insurer, filed a motion to enforce the settlement
agreement. The trial court granted Todd's motion and
issued an order for Coleman to comply with the settlement
agreement. A few days later, Coleman filed a motion to
reconsider, claiming that she neither agreed to nor signed
the $10, 000 settlement agreement. She requested that the
trial court issue an order rescinding its previous order
enforcing settlement. The trial court conducted a hearing,
during which Coleman and Counsel 1 testified. Both attorneys
from Counsel 1 testified that it was their understanding,
based on communications with Coleman, that they had authority
to agree to the $10, 000 settlement. When questioned about
the settlement negotiations and why she decided to seek
different representation, Coleman testified, "[Counsel
1] said, uh, how about five thousand dollars for your pocket,
is what I heard the first time and the second day it was ten
thousand, so I am thinking the next day it might be fifteen,
so, I just was done at that point." Tr. Vol. 2 at 14.
The trial court issued an order with findings of fact,
specifically finding that Counsel 1 had actual and apparent
authority to enter into the settlement agreement.
Notwithstanding, the court granted Coleman's motion and
rescinded its original order to compel compliance. This
interlocutory appeal ensued. Additional facts will be
provided as necessary.
contends that the trial court erred in granting Coleman's
motion to reconsider. A trial court has the inherent power to
reconsider, vacate, or modify any previous order so long as
the action remains in fieri, meaning that it is
"pending resolution." Pond v. Pond, 700
N.E.2d 1130, 1135 (Ind. 1998); Stephens v. Irvin,
734 N.E.2d 1133, 1135 (Ind.Ct.App. 2000), trans.
denied (2001). Here, the trial court's order
included specific findings of fact. When a trial court issues
specific findings sua sponte, the findings control our review
and the judgment as to the issues those findings cover; for
all other issues, we apply a general judgment standard.
State Farm Ins. Co. v. Young, 985 N.E.2d 764, 766
(Ind.Ct.App. 2013). We apply a two-tiered standard of review,
determining first whether the evidence supports the findings
and then whether the findings support the judgment.
Id. We review the findings for clear error and will
reverse when our review of the record leaves us with a firm
conviction that a mistake has been made. Id. We
neither reweigh evidence nor reassess witness credibility.
Id. While we defer substantially to findings of
fact, we do not do so to conclusions of law. Id.
Coleman sought and was granted rescission of the trial
court's previous order to compel compliance with the $10,
000 settlement agreement. This Court has stated,
Indiana strongly favors settlement agreements and if a party
agrees to settle a pending action, but then refuses to
consummate his settlement agreement, the opposing party may
obtain a judgment enforcing the agreement. Settlement
agreements are governed by the same general principles of
contract law as other ...