Unsigned mediation agreement enforced where no proof of prejudice

The Michigan Court of Appeals issued its decision in Meinke v. Meinke (Case No. 277033, November 29, 2007).  The court held that the trial court did not err in enforcing the property settlement agreement despite the fact that the mediation agreement was never signed by the parties.

The court stated (excerpt):

When construing a court rule, we begin by looking at the plain language. In re KH, 469
Mich 621, 628; 677 NW2d 800 (2004). If the language is unambiguous, we must enforce the
meaning expressed, without further judicial construction or interpretation. Id. Under the plain
language of MCR 3.216(H)(7), the settlement agreement at issue here was not binding because it
was not signed by the parties. See Rivkin v Rivkin, 181 Mich App 718; 449 NW2d 685 (1989).
However, “absent a showing of prejudice resulting from noncompliance with the [court] rules,
any error is harmless.” Baker v DEC Int’l, 218 Mich App 248, 262; 553 NW2d 667 (1996), aff’d
in part, rev’d in part on other grounds, 458 Mich 247 (1998) (rule set forth in the context of
affidavits violating court rules). Prejudice refers to a matter that would prevent a party from
having a fair trial, or a matter which a party could not properly contest, e.g., when surprised. Ben
P Fyke & Sons v Gunter Co, 390 Mich 649, 657; 213 NW2d 134 (1973). Here, plaintiff has not
asserted, let alone demonstrated, prejudice by the trial court’s decision to find that a settlement
was reached even though it was not signed by the parties. Moreover, the trial court noted that the
parties’ actions in the months following the settlement confirmed the fact that the parties had in
fact reached an agreement at the mediation session. Absent a showing of prejudice, any
noncompliance with MCR 3.216(H)(7) was harmless. The agreement was reduced to writing.
The trial court found the mediator credible when he asserted that the agreement was not signed
only because of the bankruptcy. But for the passage of time needed to resolve the bankruptcy,
there would be no question of a binding settlement. The trial court did not err in enforcing the
settlement agreement even though it was not signed by the parties.

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