Civil Appeal from the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 06P000921.
James M. Johnson, (For Plaintiff-Appellant).
Gregory E. O'Brien, Cavitch, Familo & Durkin Co., L.P.A., (For Defendant-Appellee, William J. Price).
David W. Jevnikar, Newman, Leary and Brice, (For Defendant-Appellee, The Estate of Raymond E. Long).
THOMAS R. WRIGHT, J.
(¶1} This accelerated-calendar appeal is from a final judgment of the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas. Appellant, Patricia Morgan, seeks reversal of the trial court's determination overruling her motion to enforce a settlement agreement that she allegedly reached with the insurer of appellee, William J. Price. Essentially, she asserts that the trial court erred in holding that it did not have the authority to address the merits of the motion to enforce.
(¶2} On August 13, 2006, appellant was a passenger on a motorcycle driven by Raymond Long. As the motorcycle was proceeding north on Ravenna Road in Chardon, Ohio, a motor vehicle operated by appellee crossed the road's centerline and hit the motorcycle head-on. Although appellant sustained a number of serious injuries, including two broken legs and two crushed vertebrae, Long died as a result of his injuries.
(¶3} The cause of the accident was attributable solely to appellee's negligence. At the time of the accident, appellee was covered under a motor vehicle insurance policy which he had personally purchased from Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. He was also covered under an insurance policy issued by his employer, AIG Insurance Company.
(¶4}Within 40 days of the accident, appellant instituted a negligence action against appellee and Long's estate in the Geauga County trial court. Before appellee could answer the complaint, appellant entered into settlement negotiations with AIG and Nationwide. The separate negotiations with AIG resulted in a written settlement, under which appellant agreed to accept a sum of $900, 000 in return for executing a release of all claims against appellee. In regard to the release, the "AIG" settlement had a specific provision defining the nature of all "claims" appellant was waiving as a consequence of accepting the payment. This type of provision was also set forth in the separate written settlement agreement that Long's estate executed with AIG.
(¶5} According to appellant, her trial attorneys were also able to reach an oral settlement with appellee's personal carrier, Nationwide. Supposedly, an agent agreed on behalf of Nationwide to pay the sum of $300, 000, the policy's limit for multiple claims. Of that amount, appellant allegedly would receive $150, 000, and the remainder would be awarded to Long's estate.
(¶6} On November 20, 2006, appellant filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of the entire case, pursuant to Civ.R. 41(A). The notice did not indicate the reason for the dismissal, nor was any reference made to the alleged oral settlement with Nationwide. Ten days later, the trial court executed an order which basically approved the voluntary dismissal. The order consisted of a one-line statement stamped on the first page of the 41(A) notice, and also did not have any reference to the "Nationwide" settlement or the "AIG" settlement.
(¶7} No new proceedings were held in the Geauga County action over the next five years. In August 2008, appellant and Long's estate initiated a separate case solely against Nationwide in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas. Under the first claim of their amended complaint, they asserted that Nationwide had failed to comply with the terms of the purported oral settlement by refusing to pay the $300, 000. After the Lorain County action remained pending for over three years, Nationwide moved for summary judgment on the entire amended complaint, primarily arguing that any claim of appellant and the estate arising from the 2006 accident was barred under the release provisions in the "AIG" settlement agreements. In its final judgment of April 27, 2012, the Lorain County trial court found the release provisions binding and, therefore, ruled against the estate and appellant on all of their pending claims against Nationwide.
(¶8} Five months after the conclusion of the Lorain County case, appellant filed her motion before the Geauga County trial court to enforce the alleged oral settlement with Nationwide. She maintained that, since Nationwide refused to admit the existence of the oral settlement, an evidentiary hearing was needed to decide the factual dispute.
(¶9} After Nationwide submitted a written response to the motion, the trial court conducted an abbreviated evidentiary hearing. In trying to demonstrate that a separate oral settlement was reached with Nationwide's agent, appellant presented the testimony of the two attorneys who had represented her when the Geauga County was originally brought in September 2006. In response, Nationwide introduced into evidence certified copies of documents from the ...