In Suarez Trucking FL Corp. v. Souders, SC21-369 October 20, 2022, the petitioner sought to enforce a settlement agreement. The petitioner was the defendant in the underlying tort action who filed a written notice accepting a settlement offer made by the plaintiff. The Florida Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order denying the petitioner’s motion to enforce the settlement agreement, holding that the written notice of acceptance did not form a binding contract and that the settlement check was deficient. The petitioner appealed.
The Florida Supreme Court explained that Fla. Stat. § 768.79 sets out that a settlement offer shall be accepted by filing a written acceptance with the court within 30 days after service. Upon the filing of both the offer and acceptance, the court has full jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement.
In this case, the plaintiff made a settlement offer expressly pursuant to section 768.79. In response, the defendant filed a notice of acceptance accepting that settlement offer pursuant to section 768.79 and Florida Rule 1.442. Accordingly, the Court held that this notice of acceptance created a binding settlement contract by unequivocally and fully assenting to the terms of the settlement offer.
The Court found the Second District misapplied the “mirror image” rule when it found that the defendant’s acceptance of the settlement offer was ineffective because it did not recite the terms of the offer. The Court explained that in order to create a contract, there must be an objective manifestation by both parties of assent to the same terms. However, regurgitation of the terms of the offer is not required. In this case, the defendant’s acceptance constituted a positive and unqualified assent to the proposal of settlement. Thus, it was effective.
The Court also found that the Second District conflated acceptance with performance. The Second District contended that the settlement offer could only be accepted by performance. However, the Court found that the plain terms of the offer contemplated a two-step process in which acceptance would be followed by performance, consistent with section 768.79. The offer specified that performance by payment had to occur within ten days of the date of acceptance.
The Court quashed the decision of the Second District Court of Appeal.