Alfieri v. Solomon

The issue presented in this case was one of first impression: to what extent do the confidentiality provisions of Oregon’s mediation statutes (ORS 36.100 to 36.238) prevent a client from offering evidence of communications made by his attorney and others in a subsequent malpractice action against that attorney? Plaintiff retained defendant, an attorney specializing in employment law, to pursue discrimination and retaliation claims against plaintiff’s former employer. In the course of that representation, defendant filed administrative complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and thereafter a civil action against the former employer for damages on plaintiff’s behalf. After limited discovery, plaintiff, represented by defendant, and plaintiff’s former employer entered into mediation under the terms and conditions set forth in the mediation statutes. Before meeting with the mediator and plaintiff’s former employer, defendant advised plaintiff about the potential value of his claims and the amount for which he might settle the lawsuit. Plaintiff and his former employer, along with their respective lawyers and the mediator, attended a joint mediation session and attempted to resolve the dispute. However, no resolution was reached. After the session ended, the mediator proposed a settlement package to the parties. In the weeks that followed, defendant provided advice to plaintiff about the proposed settlement. At defendant’s urging, plaintiff accepted the proposed terms and signed a settlement agreement with his former employer. One of the terms to which plaintiff agreed was that the settlement agreement would be confidential. After the parties signed the agreement, defendant continued to counsel plaintiff and provide legal advice regarding the settlement. Some months after the mediation ended, plaintiff concluded that defendant’s legal representation had been deficient and negatively affected the outcome of his case. The trial court granted defendant’s motion to strike certain allegations in plaintiff’s complaint and then dismissed the complaint with prejudice under ORCP 21 A(8) for failure to state a claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that ORS 36.220 and 36.222 barred some, but not all, of plaintiff’s allegations, and that the trial court erred in dismissing the complaint with prejudice before a responsive pleading had been filed. The Supreme Court agreed that ORS 36.220 and 36.222 limited the subsequent disclosure of mediation settlement terms and certain communications that occur in the course of or in connection with mediation. The Court disagreed, however, as to the scope of communications that are confidential under those statutes. Furthermore, the Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals as to whether the trial court erred in dismissing plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice because no responsive pleading had been filed. The Court therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alfieri v. Solomon" on Justia Law