This opinion threatens to blow a hole in sections 1119 and 1123 large enough to obliterate their protections — protections that have been repeatedly enforced to the letter of the law by the Supreme Court in its fairly recent Fair v. Bahktiari opinion — holding that parties to a mediated settlement agreement must include in it an express provision that they intend to be bound thereby — and Simmons v. Ghaderi in which the Court held that parties cannot impliedly waive confidentiality nor be estopped from asserting it.
Most Confidentiality Agreements I’ve seen (and used) naturally carve out an exception for the enforcement of a settlement agreement. If you sign such an agreement after Thottam, you risk the enforcement of a non-1123-compliant “settlement agreement” and risk being required to disclose otherwise confidential mediation communications on the sole ground that one of the parties alleges that the opposition entered into an enforceable settlement agreement during the mediation.
Were I attempting to resist the disclosure of mediation confidences my adversary claimed should be fair game under Thottam, I’d contend that the Thottam Confidentiality agreement, and hence its carve-out, was unusually broad and that the Court’s holding should therefore be read narrowly and limited to its facts.
As California lawyers know, the Second Appellate District has jurisdiction over matters litigated in the Los Angeles Superior Court. It is therefore particularly important to take a look at the impact this decision might have upon matters mediated by the neutrals on that Court’s pro bono or party pay panels. All such parties are required to sign a Confidentiality Agreement that protects from disclosure all mediation-related “written” and “oral communication[s] made by any party, attorney, neutral, or other participant in any ADR session” except “written settlement agreement[s] reached as a result of this ADR proceeding in an action to enforce that settlement.”
Under Thottam, a colorable argument could be made that the mandatory Superior Court Agreement’s confidentiality “carve-out” should be treated as either:
What to do? Don’t sign any Confidentiality agreement that could possibly be interpreted in a manner similar to the one subject of Thottam unless you want to risk the disclosure of mediation confidences arising from a writing that does not comply with section 1123(c).
You can certainly refuse to sign the Superior Court’s agreement in light of the Thottam holding. I don’t know as a matter of Court policy whether that limits parties’ ability to use the Court’s pro bono or party pay mediators.
I’d have to say that this case puts confidences made in mediation sessions controlled by the Superior Court’s Confidentiality Agreement at risk whenever one party is contending that the other entered into an agreement pursuant to a signed term sheet.
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