(CN) – The family of Eva Cassidy, a popular singer who died of cancer in 1996, can enforce a settlement agreement with a record label that has waffled on the settlement’s enforceability, a California appeals court ruled.
William Straw dba Blix Street Records and Cassidy’s parents disagreed over royalty payments and the Cassidys’ plan to make a motion picture about their daughter’s life. The singer died at age 33 of melanoma.
Just as Blix Street and the Cassidys headed to trial, the parties reached a settlement agreement through mediation.
After executing the settlement and assuring the judge that the agreement was enforceable, however, Straw, an attorney who had negotiated entertainment contracts, began to worry that the agreement would negatively affect his business.
“He believed it was one-sided in favor of the Cassidys and decided to take the position that material terms were missing from the settlement agreement and that some existing terms were ambiguous,” the ruling states. “But no one, including Straw, suggested the settlement agreement was not enforceable, even though Straw had considered telling his counsel to inform the judge that there was no settlement.”
The trial court ruled for the Cassidys, finding that Blix Street was barred under judicial estoppel from disputing the enforceability of the contract, even if the settlement agreement did not constitute an enforceable contract.
On appeal in division five of California’s second district, Associate Justice Richard Mosk agreed with the lower court.
Since judicial estoppel precludes parties from taking inconsistent positions to gain an advantage, Blix Street could not tell the trial judge that the settlement was enforceable and then claim otherwise after the judge dismissed the jury called to hear the case.
“The trial court observed that Straw, an experienced attorney, and Blix Street’s attorney represented to Judge Edmon that the settlement agreement was enforceable at a time they knew all of the facts that they later contended made the agreement unenforceable,” Mosk wrote. “In reliance on those representations, Judge Edmon discharged the jury that had been selected after two days of jury selection and abbreviated opening statements, and vacated the trial date. Thus, according to the trial court, even if the settlement agreement was not otherwise enforceable, Blix Street was estopped from denying its enforceability.”
In late 2006 and early 2007, the parties disagreed over who would be an appropriate producer for the biopic, and Blix Street argued that if the settlement is a binding contract, the Cassidys were in breach of it by not cooperating.
Mosk found that the Cassidys complied with their contractual obligations and could enforce the settlement.