Entry Of Judgment Based On 998 Offer Is A Ministerial Act That Cannot Involve Adjudication Of Dispute Over 998 Acceptance—Presumably An Independent Action Was The Remedy.
In Coleman v. Sagar, Case No. B283005 (2d Dist., Div. 5 Oct. 9, 2018) (unpublished), there was a brouhaha over whether defendant properly accepted a CCP § 998 offer through an electronic signature by the defense attorney, but not the defendant party. Defendant moved to enforce the settlement pursuant to CCP §§ 664.6 and 998. The trial judge determined the acceptance was valid, but the appellate court reversed.
The 2/5 DCA determined that a trial court may not resolve 998 acceptance disputes when entering judgment based on the 998 offer, given that only a ministerial act is at issue. The problem here was an intersection of procedural principles which may want to guide litigants in such a circumstance in the future. The first is that a settlement agreement cannot be enforced under section 664.6 if just signed by a party’s attorney; that meant that the normal expedient enforcement motion procedure could not be used under 664.6. With respect to 998, the entry of a judgment is purely ministerial, but neither the court clerk nor trial court can resolve acceptance or other ambiguities.
Where does that leave everyone is this case as far as a remedy? Footnote 2 of the opinion suggests the solution—probably a separate suit in equity or some amendment of the pleadings to set up the issue. There you go!