Dallas Court of Appeals reverses on finding that trial court erred by rendering judgment on the parties' Rule 11 settlement agreement in SAPCR modification proceeding after appellant had withdrawn his consent.
Mims v. Mims
Wesley James Mims v. Mary Ann Mims (Tex.App.- Dallas, Aug. 2, 2011)
Before Justices Moseley, Richter, and Lang-Miers
Opinion By Justice Lang-Miers
Appellant Wesley James Mims appeals the trial court's judgment in this suit to modify an order affecting the parent-child relationship. For the following reasons, we reverse the trial court's judgment and remand for further proceedings.
Appellee filed this suit to modify an order affecting the parent-child relationship. The matter was set for a bench trial in July 2009. Sometime after the trial began, the parties reached a rule 11 settlement agreement on all issues. The attorneys read the agreement into the record and also worked out some of the details of the agreement as it was being read. The court made extensive notes about the agreement's details on the docket sheet. At the conclusion of the proceeding, both parties stated that they agreed to the settlement agreement and asked the trial court to approve it. Appellee prepared an agreed order and, about a month later, filed it along with a motion to sign the order. Appellant had not signed the agreed order. Two days after appellee filed the motion to sign the agreed order, appellant filed objections to the motion stating that he withdrew his consent to the settlement agreement. The record reflects that a hearing on the matter was scheduled for August 19, 2009. However, on August 18, 2009, the court made a docket entry stating, “Resp. to get cases to Court by 4:00 P.M. Review cases and transcript. Both sides announced they had no objections.” The record does not contain any other notation regarding a hearing, and on August 27, 2009, the trial court signed the agreed order. In one issue, appellant argues that the trial court erred by rendering judgment after he withdrew his consent to the agreement.
A party may revoke his consent to settle a case any time before judgment is rendered on the agreement. S&A Rest. Corp. v. Leal, 892 S.W.2d 855, 857 (Tex. 1995). An agreed judgment rendered after one of the parties revokes his consent is void. Padilla v. LaFrance, 907 S.W.2d 454, 461-62 (Tex. 1995) (“court cannot render a valid agreed judgment absent consent at the time it is rendered”); Quintero v. Jim Walter Homes, Inc., 654 S.W.2d 442, 444 (Tex. 1983) (when trial court has knowledge party does not consent to judgment, trial court should refuse to sanction agreement by making it judgment of the court).
Although the parties agree with this statement of the law, they disagree about when the judgment in this case was rendered. A judgment is rendered when “the court settles and declares the decision of the law upon the matters at issue.” Formby's KOA v. BHP Water Supply Corp., 730 S.W.2d 428, 429 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1987, no writ) (quoting Coleman v. Zapp, 151 S.W.1040, 1041 (Tex. 1912)). Rendition of judgment is a present act; an expression of future intent is not a rendition. See S&A Rest., 892 S.W.2d at 858; Formby's KOA, 730 S.W.2d at 430. The words used by the trial court must clearly indicate the court's intent to render judgment at the time the words are expressed. S&A Rest., 892 S.W.2d at 858.
At the conclusion of the trial proceeding, both parties asked the court to approve the agreement, and the court stated:
THE COURT: All right. Then I understand that [appellee's lawyer] is going to prepare the order. And I know this is going to be kind of a convoluted and very complicated order, but I still would want to have it before - can we get it before - could we get it by July the 30th or 31st?Appellant argues that the court “utter[ly] failed to clearly and affirmatively state it was rendering judgment” during the July proceeding during which the settlement agreement was read into the record. He also argues that the agreement did not resolve all pending matters. He contends that the trial court did not render judgment until it signed the agreed order on August 27, 2009. Appellee, on the other hand, contends that no magic words are required and that the court's on-the-record statements at the July proceeding, combined with the court's notations on the docket sheet, “clearly constitute a rendition . . . .” We agree with appellant.
[APPELLEE'S LAWYER]: Yes.
THE COURT: That way we'll have something in our hands.
Although the trial court did not expressly state it approved the settlement agreement, the record shows that the court appeared to have approved it. But mere approval of a settlement agreement does not constitute rendition of judgment. S&A Rest., 892 S.W.2d at 858. And although the court appeared to have approved the agreement, the court did not order the parties to sign and follow the agreement. See Samples Exterminators v. Samples, 640 S.W.2d 873, 875 (Tex. 1982) (trial court rendered judgment by ordering parties to sign and follow the agreement); Formby's KOA, 730 S.W.2d at 430. Appellant also argues that the record shows that some matters were left unresolved when the agreement was read into the record. For example, he cites the record where appellee's attorney advised the court that the attorneys and parties would have to work out the logistics of visitation if appellee moved out of the state with the child: “And the logistics of that we'll work out in final orders pursuant to the Texas Family Law Practice Manual, but there's going to have to be some notice provisions and buying tickets.”
Additionally, the record shows that motions were pending and would not be resolved except by the court's signed order. Appellee's counsel asked appellee whether she was “asking the Court to make these terms and conditions into an order that will dispose of two pending motions?” She said yes. The record does not indicate that the trial court ruled on those pending motions at the July proceeding. Appellee responds that the trial court ruled on those matters by the notation on the docket sheet that “all other pending requests denied and non-suited.” But we do not construe that notation as a rendition of judgment. See Formby's KOA, 730 S.W.2d at 430-31 (stating that as a general rule, “a mere docket entry is not sufficient to constitute a judgment or decree of the court” without more evidence of the court's intent). Instead, it appears to be a contemporaneous note relating to appellant's counsel's statement of the parties' agreement that “all other pending requests in this cause of action, the parties have agreed will be waived by the parties and denied by the Court.”
Based on this record, we conclude that judgment was not rendered in this case at the time the parties announced their agreement on the record. We conclude that judgment was rendered on the date the trial court signed the agreed order, which was well after appellant had withdrawn his consent to the agreement. Consequently, the trial court erred by rendering judgment on the parties' agreement after appellant had withdrawn his consent. See Footnote 1
We sustain appellant's sole issue on appeal, reverse the trial court's judgment, and remand the cause for further proceedings.
Richter, J., concurring without opinion.
We express no opinion regarding the enforceability of the settlement agreement. See Padilla, 907 S.W.2d at 461 (distinguishing between requirements of an agreed judgment and an enforceable settlement agreement); Browning v. Holloway, 620 S.W.2d 611, 614-15 (Tex. Civ. App.-Dallas 1981, writ ref'd n.r.e.) (same).