NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued June 11, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County, Docket No. L-1184-11.
Joseph Polidoro argued the cause pro se.
Ronald P. Sierzega argued the cause for respondents (Puff & Cockerill, attorneys; Mr. Sierzega, on the brief).
Before Judges Fisher and Grall.
Defendant Joseph Polidoro appeals an order enforcing an alleged settlement of this lawsuit, arguing he did not consent to its terms. Because the record was not sufficiently clear of doubt about whether defendant Polidoro had agreed to settle, we reverse the order under review and remand for further proceedings.
The following circumstances are not disputed. Plaintiffs James and Debra Patterson commenced this action against defendants Polidoro and Green Cities Energy, LLC, alleging breach of contract, a violation of the Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 56:8-1 to -195, and other causes of action, arising from defendants' sale of a solar panel system and windmill for installation at plaintiffs' residence in Elmer. A law firm retained by defendants' insurance carrier appeared on defendants' behalf.
On May 22, 2012, the parties and their attorneys met to mediate a resolution of this matter. Plaintiffs concede no agreement was reached at that time, but a document entitled "Settlement Agreement and General Release" was prepared by the law firm representing defendants and later forwarded to plaintiffs' counsel to which plaintiffs agreed. Defendant Polidoro, however, refused to sign the agreement and asserted that he did not consent to the document's terms.
Thereafter, the law firm representing defendants moved to withdraw as counsel because "the insurance carrier" instructed
"that the fees and costs of this law firm will no longer be paid . . . in connection with the defense of the [d]efendants." Plaintiffs filed a cross-motion for enforcement of the settlement agreement they believed had been fully accepted by all parties. On the motions' return date, the trial judge viewed the dispute as "a close call, " but, without conducting an evidentiary hearing, decided to enforce the agreement.
Defendant Polidoro appeals, arguing, in a single point:
A SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT THAT IS BEING NEGOTIATED REQUIRES THE AGREEMENT OF THE PARTIES INVOLVED, THIS AGREEMENT WAS NEVER AGREED UPON OR SIGNED BY THE DEFENDANT, ...