Buck v. Keats

2002 | Cited 0 times | Court of Appeals of Texas | April 9, 2002

REVERSED AND REMANDED.

OPINION

In five points of error, Monty B. Buck challenges the trial court's order entering a settlement agreement for the education of A.B.B., Buck and Pamela S. Keats's child. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the trial court's order and remand for further proceedings.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Buck and Keats filed petitions to modify the parent-child relationship, each requesting the exclusive right to make decisions regarding A.B.B.'s education. In a Mediated Settlement Agreement, the parties agreed that the issue of A.B.B.'s school attendance would be submitted to a panel of experts. According to the agreement, the panel "shall evaluate and recommend that the child attend either Dallas Christian Academy or Forney ISD." The parties agreed to be bound by the panel's recommendation.

The panel recommended, in relevant part, that (1) A.B.B. "should enroll in the Forney Primary School program as a Kindergarten student and should remain there through the First Grade"; and (2) during the first grade year, A.B.B. "shall be allowed to seek admission for Second Grade in a private school of her father's choice." Buck prepared an order reflecting the panel's findings and sent it to Keats for approval.

Keats then filed a Motion to Enter Order and attached a proposed order that it was in A.B.B.'s best interest to attend Forney Independent School District; the proposed order recited that she attend Forney Independent School District. Buck filed his objection to the motion and counter-motion for entry of order that reflected the entire recommendation of the panel.

At the hearing, Keats argued that the trial court should sign an order embodying the panel's findings as to whether A.B.B. should attend the Forney schools or Dallas Christian Academy and strike other findings because the panel exceeded its authority. Buck attempted to elicit evidence from one of the panel members regarding whether its recommendations were within the scope of the settlement agreement. Keats objected that the evidence was irrelevant, and the trial court sustained the objection. The trial court signed an order that adopted the Keats proposed order's language. Buck's motion for new trial was overruled by operation of law. Buck appealed.

THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT

In his first point of error, Buck contends the trial court erred in signing an order that exceeded the scope of the terms of the mediated settlement agreement. He argues that the agreement provided the method to determine the school A.B.B. should attend, not the specific school, and, therefore, by providing that A.B.B. attend Forney schools, the trial court's order did not reflect the parties' agreement.

Mediated settlement agreements may be binding in suits affecting the parent-child relationship, if the agreements meet certain statutory requirements. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.0071(c), (d) (Vernon Supp. 2002); see id. § 6.602(b) (Vernon Supp. 2002) (providing for binding agreements after mediation in suit for dissolution of marriage). Thus, a mediated settlement agreement that meets the requirements of section 153.0071(d) is binding, and a party is entitled to judgment on the agreement notwithstanding rule of civil procedure 11 or another rule of law. Id. § 153.0071(e); Alvarez v. Reiser, 958 S.W.2d 232, 234 (Tex. App.-Eastland 1997, writ denied). A final judgment that is founded upon a settlement agreement reached by the parties must be in strict or literal compliance with that agreement. Vickrey v. Am. Youth Camps, Inc., 532 S.W.2d 292, 292 (Tex. 1976) (per curiam). In a judgment by consent, "the court has no power to supply terms, provisions, or essential details not previously agreed to by the parties." In re Ames, 860 S.W.2d 590, 593 (Tex. App.-Amarillo 1993, no writ) (quoting Matthew v. Looney, 132 Tex. 313, 317, 123 S.W.2d 871, 872 (1939)). The court can merely approve or reject the agreement. See Keim v. Anderson, 943 S.W.2d 938, 946 (Tex. App.-El Paso 1997, no writ) (discussing "just and right" review of property division settlement agreement in divorce). While the trial court has the power to render an agreed judgment, if the trial court goes beyond the terms of the parties' agreement, the proper course is to reverse the judgment and remand the case to the trial court. See Vickery, 532 S.W.2d at 293.

Here, the parties agreed that a panel of experts would resolve the issue of A.B.B.'s education. They agreed that the experts "shall evaluate and recommend that the child attend either Dallas Christian Academy or Forney I.S.D." The parties agreed to be bound by the recommendation. The panel recommended that A.B.B. attend Forney Primary School through the first grade and then be allowed to seek admission for second grade at a private school. The panel also recommended administration of an aptitude test during the first grade and, if A.B.B. were not admitted to a private school in second grade, she should remain enrolled at Forney Primary School and the parents should seek assistance in remedying any learning abilities "so that a future attempt shall be made to enroll [A.B.B.] in private school." The recommendations encompassed the child's educational needs and evaluated the proposed schools as requested. Rather than either accepting the recommendations, as agreed by the parties, or rejecting the recommendations,3 the trial court modified the panel's recommendations by ordering that A.B.B. attend Forney Independent School District. Thus, the trial court's order is not in strict compliance with the mediated settlement agreement. Because we conclude the trial court improperly modified the mediated settlement agreement, we sustain Buck's first point of error.

CONCLUSION

Because of our disposition of Buck's first point of error, we reverse the trial court's judgment and remand this cause to the trial court for further proceedings. We need not address Buck's remaining points of error. See Tex. R. App. P. 47.

BARBARA ROSENBERG JUSTICE, ASSIGNED

Do Not Publish Tex. R. App. P. 47

1. The Honorable David F. Farris, Retired Justice, Second District Court of Appeals, Fort Worth, Texas, sitting by assignment.

2. The Honorable Barbara Rosenberg, Former Justice, Court of Appeals, Fifth District of Texas at Dallas, sitting by assignment.

3. See Keim, 943 S.W.2d at 946; see also Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.007(b), (d) (Vernon 1996) (providing for trial court's review of agreements concerning conservatorship under best interest of the child standard); In re Kasschau, 11 S.W.3d 305, 311 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1999, no pet.) (noting that a party's entitlement to judgment on a mediated settlement agreement pursuant to section 153.0071 "does not deprive the court of discretion to review an agreement before entering judgment").

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