Friday, January 5, 2007
C.A. Sets Aside Order That Parties Attend, Pay for Private Mediation
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Trial courts do not have the authority to order parties in a complex civil case to attend and pay for private mediation, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Granting a writ of mandate sought by Jeld-Wen, Inc—an uninsured cross-defendant in a multi-party construction defect action—Div One. set aside a case management order by San Diego Superior Judge Ronald L. Styn requiring all parties to appear at mediation and to pay a pro rata share of the mediator’s fee.
Styn had issued the order last April over Jeld-Wen’s objection that the mediation provisions violated rule 3.1380 of the California Rules of Court, which allows the court to set only one mandatory settlement conference. All parties were directed to appear at the mediation with their insurance representatives or other individuals with settlement authority unless excused by the court.
When Jeld-Wen failed to attend the initial mediation sessions, various parties asked the trial judge to impose monetary sanctions and compel its appearance at the next mediation.
Concluding that no authority conflicted with the order’s mediation provisions, Styn granted their motion and ordered Jeld-Wen to pay $200 in sanctions for directly violating the order.
Writing for Div. One, Justice James A. McIntyre disagreed:
“While trial courts may try to cajole the parties in complex actions into stipulating to private mediation...they cannot be forced or coerced over the threat of sanctions into attending and paying for private mediation as this is antithetical to the entire concept of mediation.
“In any event we suspect that in a large majority of complex cases most parties will agree to private mediation; as such, we foresee no apocalyptic consequences from this decision.”
Additionally, McIntyre said that forcing Jeld-Wen, an uninsured and “minor” player in the litigation, into mediation would serve no purpose since the combined costs of the mediator and attorneys fees expended on the mediation could exceed the amount of the claim against it.
The case is Jeld-Wen v. Marlborough Development Corp., 06 S.O.S. 76.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company