Can a Party to a Mediation Agreement Oppose Its Court Approval?

A Binding Arrangement

By: Donald L. Swanson

The plan confirmation process does not provide a party to the mediation “with a renewed opportunity to challenge the [mediated] settlement to which they are bound.” 

–In re RPP, LLC, 547 B.R.158, 164 (Bkrtcy.W.D.Pa. 2016).

The RPP, LLC bankruptcy case is a Chapter 11 reorganization, with plan confirmation occurring on June 2, 2016.

The Facts and Disputes

The case has intense and protracted litigation.  The disputes culminate in a mediated settlement agreement, following an 11-hour mediation session held on August 17, 2015.  The terms of the agreement are subject to approval by the Bankruptcy Court during the plan confirmation process.

Thereafter, a husband and wife party to the agreement, Mr. and Mrs. Ferrone, request Court clarification of certain issues.  In particular, the Forrones want the Bankruptcy Court to rule that the mediated arrangement includes a grant of security interest to them.

The Ferrones argue that the Bankruptcy Court approval requirement, in the settlement agreement, allows them to contest the terms of the mediated agreement that they signed.

The Bankruptcy Court finds that, (i) the mediated agreement makes no mention of a security interest for the Ferrones, and (ii) their request for one is “in the nature of ‘buyer’s remorse’” and “regret regarding the settlement.”

The Bankruptcy Court rules that the Ferrones are bound by the settlement agreement and cannot use court approval processes as an excuse to seek a better deal:

In questioning the settlement, the Ferrones also contend that the settlement was never approved in compliance with Fed.R.Bankr.P. 9019.  . . .  Although the plan confirmation process achieves the goals of providing complete disclosure to all parties and review by the Court, to be clear, it does not provide the Ferrones, or any party to the mediation, with a renewed opportunity to challenge the settlement to which they are bound.

On December 9, 2016, this ruling is affirmed on appeal by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The Rule of Law and a Question

The rule of law established in the RPP, LLC ruling is this:  When a mediated settlement agreement is subject to subsequent court approval, the parties to the mediation are still bound by their mediated agreement and may not oppose the required court approval.

A question:  Is this RPP, LLC ruling limited to the specific facts of the RPP, LLC case?

The specific facts of the RPP, LLC case include a judicial mediator who issues a “Final Judicial Mediation Consent Order,” instead of a regular agreement between mediating parties using a private mediator.

The Answer

I suggest that the answer to this question is, “No”: the ruling has broad and general application.

A mediation party is bound by the terms of the mediation settlement agreement until the required court approval is granted or denied, and such party may not directly or indirectly oppose the granting of such approval.  A mediation party cannot use the court approval requirement to renegotiate a better deal.

The RPP, LLC ruling, I suggest, is operative in a broad range of circumstances and is not limited to the “Final Judicial Mediation Consent Order” facts of that case.