The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a district court order enforcing one party’s version of a settlement agreement, finding that version unsupported by the record. The Court found that the other party’s version accurately reflected the parties’ understanding. PlasmaCam, Inc. v. CNCElectronics, LLC, Case No. 21-1689 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 3, 2022) (Dyk, Reyna, JJ.) (Newman, J., dissenting).
PlasmaCam and CNCElectronics (CNC) both operate in the precision cutting industry. PlasmaCam is the exclusive licensee of a patent related to precision cutting equipment, and it sued CNC for allegedly infringing the patent. In December 2019, the parties notified the district court that they had settled the case but disputes arose in the process of drafting a formal agreement, particularly with respect to the scope of “covered products” under the settlement license and the scope of a “mutual release.” Although the parties eventually advised the district court that they had reached a complete agreement, disputes remained as to the scope of covered products. On PlasmaCam’s motion, the district court ordered CNC to execute PlasmaCam’s version of the agreement, execute a promissory note contemplated by the agreement and pay any unpaid settlement funds. CNC appealed.
The Federal Circuit first evaluated whether it had jurisdiction. The Court found that it had jurisdiction because the district court’s order was an injunction (since it ordered CNC to specifically perform an action, i.e., execute an agreement and promissory note, and not merely to pay money) and a final judgment (because it resolved all substantial issues between the parties).
The Federal Circuit next considered the negotiations between the parties with regards to the settlement agreement. As to the scope of covered products, the Court found that the parties had reached agreement regarding a definition of “covered products” in an email, even though the scope of the mutual release was still being negotiated. However, the Court found that the agreed definition of “covered products” was different from the one PlasmaCam provided to the Court and the one which the Court had subsequently ordered CNC to adopt. The Court also recognized the parties’ subsequent agreement regarding the mutual release, which both parties had confirmed to the district court. Because the district court had clearly erred by adopting a definition of “covered products” different from the one that was agreed by the parties, the Court reversed the district court’s order and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the parties’ actual agreement.
Judge Newman dissented. In her view, no agreement had been reached at all, as the parties had apparently continued to disagree as to the scope of key terms.
Practice Note: In this case, the parties’ statements to the district court that they had reached an agreement played a large role in establishing that an agreement had been formed even though there was no single signed document that reflected the agreement and, in some views, there continued to be disputes about important terms. Litigants should be careful not to represent to a court that an agreement has been reached if they have not actually reached a mutual understanding. Conversely, if they express that an agreement has been reached, they should expect to be bound by it.