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Bridge City Family Medical Clinic, P.C. v. Kent & Johnson, LLP

Court of Appeals of Oregon

March 25, 2015

BRIDGE CITY FAMILY MEDICAL CLINIC, P.C., an Oregon corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
KENT & JOHNSON, LLP, an Oregon limited liability partnership; Christopher H. Kent; and Leslie S. Johnson, Defendants-Respondents

Argued and Submitted December 4, 2014.

Page 659

Multnomah County Circuit Court. 121215890. Robert D. Durham, Senior Judge. (General Judgment). John A. Wittmayer, Judge. (Supplemental Judgment).

Terrence J. Slominski argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs was David W. Venables.

Thomas H. Tongue argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Brian R. Talcott and Dunn Carney Allen Higgins & Tongue LLP.

Before Ortega, Presiding Judge, and DeVore, Judge, and Garrett, Judge.

OPINION

Page 660

[270 Or.App. 116] GARRETT, J.

This appeal presents an issue of contract formation. Defendants represented plaintiff in an arbitration. Dissatisfied with the result, plaintiff contacted defendants' malpractice insurer, the Professional Liability Fund (PLF), regarding possible claims against defendants. Bunker, plaintiff's president, and Schafer, the adjuster on behalf of the PLF, exchanged several emails discussing a settlement. When plaintiff later brought this action, defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that a binding settlement agreement had been reached. The trial court agreed, granted defendants' motion, and entered a judgment of dismissal. We affirm.

The issue on appeal turns entirely on the interpretation of correspondence that began on August 15, 2012, when Bunker first emailed Schafer. Bunker sent Schafer an email stating that she believed she was " entitled to something" as a result of how defendants had represented plaintiff during an arbitration. Her email included this text:

" I would like to discuss with you the option of a settlement. If there is a relatively reasonable but comparatively small amount of money that we could agree on to settle this matter I believe it would be mutually beneficial."

In a letter to Bunker dated August 20, 2012, Schafer wrote, " If you are interested in trying to resolve the claim for 'a comparatively small amount of money,' then I suggest you make a specific proposal that the PLF might consider."

On August 21, Bunker emailed back, " This is in response to your letter I received today. I am willing to settle this and move on for $40,000."

In a letter dated August 23, Schafer wrote the following:

" This will respond to your August 21, 2012 email proposing a settlement of $40,000.
" The PLF, on behalf of Kent & Johnson, will pay Bridge City Family Medical Clinic, P.C., the total sum of $10,000 in return for Bridge City's and your release of [defendants]. In addition, Kent & Johnson offer to release Bridge City and you from claims for reimbursement of $5,506.25 paid [270 Or.App. 117] by Kent & Johnson to Judicial Dispute Resolution, LLC on Bridge City's behalf after Bridge City failed to pay that bill. For your information, enclosed is a copy of Judicial Dispute Resolution's July 13, 2011 invoice and Chris Kent's October 13, 2011 letter to you. If settlement on these terms is acceptable, I will prepare the necessary Mutual Release.
" I want to remind you that the PLF is [defendants'] professional liability carrier. Our interests are adverse to yours and to those of Bridge City. I encourage you and Bridge City to obtain your own independent legal advice before you agree to any settlement or sign any settlement documents."

On August 27, Bunker sent Schafer a short email stating, " This will respond to your letter dated August 23, 2012 proposing a settlement of $10,000. I am willing to meet you in the middle and settle this matter immediately for $20,000."

Schafer responded to Bunker with a letter dated August 28:

" This will respond to your August 27, 2012 email to me proposing a settlement of $20,000.
" The PLF, on behalf of Kent & Johnson, will pay Bridge City Family Medical Clinic, PC the total sum of $13,500 in return for Bridge City's and your release of [defendants]. In addition, Kent & Johnson continue to offer to release Bridge City and you from claims for reimbursement of the $5,506.25 ...

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