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Leeman v. Adams Extract & Spice LLC A142321 2015 DJDAR 5566 (1st Dist.)

Trial court may not unilaterally modify terms of settlement agreement with respect to stipulated attorney fees award and force parties to accept it.

Pursuant to Health and Safety Code Section 25249.5 et seq. (Proposition 65), Dr. Whitney Leeman filed a private enforcement action against Adams Extract & Spice LLC for allegedly failing to provide the requisite warnings that its food coloring products contained a chemical known to cause cancer or reproductive defects. The parties ultimately reached a settlement including a stipulated award of $72,500 for attorney fees and costs, which the trial court reduced by roughly half. The parties moved to modify the award to reflect the amount they agreed to, but the court denied the motion without comment.

Reversed and remanded. Code of Civil Procedure Section 664.6 allows the court to enter judgment pursuant to the terms of a settlement agreement if the parties stipulate orally before the court or in writing to settle all or part of a case. Although the court may reject a stipulation that is contrary to public policy or incorporates an erroneous rule of law, nothing in this section authorizes the court to create the material terms of a settlement without mutual consent of the parties. Here, the trial court could have rejected the entire agreement, but it did not. Thus, the only way it could modify the agreement was with the mutual consent of the parties, which was not the case here. Further, although Proposition 65 allows the court to reject an agreement if it finds an attorney fee award unfair and unreasonable, there was nothing in the statute that allows the court to unilaterally modify the terms of a settlement agreement. Thus, because the trial court had no authority to unilaterally make changes to the settlement agreement, this court reversed and remanded the matter.