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Martins v. Hill

Court of Appeals of Indiana

April 10, 2019

Ana Martins, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
Richard Hill and Diana Hill, Appellees-Plaintiffs.

          Appeal from the Lake Superior Court The Honorable John M. Sedia, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 45D01-1405-CT-113

          Attorneys for Appellant Richard K. Shoultz Neal Bowling Lewis Wagner, LLP Indianapolis, Indiana Paul B. Poracky Koransky Bouwer & Poracky, P.C. Dyer, Indiana

          Attorney for Appellees William H. Walden Munster, Indiana.

          SHARPNACK, SENIOR JUDGE

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] Ana Martins appeals the trial court's order granting Richard and Diana Hill's Motion to Enforce Unconditionally Accepted Qualified Settlement Offer. We reverse and remand.

         Issue

         [¶2] Martins raises one issue, which we restate as: whether the trial court erred in granting the Hills' Motion.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] On August 15, 2012, Ana Martins rode her bike on or near a paved bike path in Crown Point, Indiana. The Hills were riding a tandem bike on the same path, and they and Martins collided. The Hills and Martins each claimed to have suffered injuries from the collision.

         [¶4] This case began on May 9, 2014, when the Hills filed a complaint against Martins and the City of Crown Point. The Hills alleged that Martins was negligent and that the City negligently designed, constructed, and operated the bike path.[1]

         [¶5] On June 13, 2014, attorney Julie Havenith filed an appearance on behalf of Martins. After requesting and receiving an extension of time, Martins, through Attorney Havenith, filed an answer to the Hills' complaint on August 13, 2014. Martins denied liability and raised affirmative defenses, including contributory negligence.

         [¶6] Meanwhile, on August 7, 2014, attorney Paul Poracky also filed an appearance on behalf of Martins. That same day, Martins, through Attorney Poracky, filed a counterclaim against the Hills, alleging negligence.

         [¶7] On October 19, 2015, attorney Richard K. Shoultz filed an appearance on behalf of Martins. Next, Attorney Havenith withdrew her appearance. On December 18, 2015, Martins, through Attorney Shoultz, moved to extend the discovery and mediation deadlines. The trial court granted the request. Meanwhile, the case was submitted to mediation by order of the court. On August 25, 2016, the mediator reported to the trial court that the parties could not reach an agreement.

         [¶8] The case continued to move forward, with Attorneys Poracky and Shoultz separately filing pleadings on behalf of Martins. Attorney Shoultz also communicated with the Hills' attorneys. On September 4, 2018, the Hills filed a Motion to Enforce Unconditionally Accepted Qualified Settlement Offer, citing recent communication among the attorneys. Martins, through Attorney Shoultz, filed a response. We discuss the circumstances of the purported settlement offer and purported acceptance in more detail below.

         [¶9] The trial court held a hearing on September 19, 2018, and granted the Hills' motion. The court ordered that "the settlement of this case, including the filing of a stipulated dismissal of the Hills' claim and Martins' counterclaim with prejudice, be completed within thirty (30) days of the date of this order." Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 18. The court further designated its order as a final judgment. Martins filed a motion to correct error, which the court denied. This appeal followed.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶10] Martins argues that the trial court erred in determining the parties had negotiated a valid settlement agreement and ordering that it be implemented. There are no factual disputes, and the parties are raising questions of law, which we review de novo. See Conwell v. Gray Loon Outdoor Mktg. Grp, Inc., 906 N.E.2d 805, 813 (Ind. 2009) (whether a contract exists is a question of law).

         [¶11] Settlement agreements are governed by principles of contract law. Ind. State Highway Comm'n v. Curtis, 704 N.E.2d 1015, 1018 (Ind. 1998). A valid contract requires offer, acceptance, consideration, and manifestation of mutual assent. Family Video Movie Club, Inc. v. Home Folks, Inc., 827 N.E.2d 582, 585 (Ind.Ct.App. 2005).

         [¶12] The General Assembly has enacted Indiana Code section 34-50-1-1 et seq., known collectively as the Qualified Settlement Offer statutes, to govern a subset of settlement discussions in tort cases. Ind. Code ยง 34-50-1-1 (1998). If a party presents a qualified settlement offer under the statutes, and the other party does not accept the offer and later receives a judgment that is less favorable than the terms of the offer, the trial court "shall" award ...


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