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Grantuskas v. Caruana

A-3078-02T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2003) (Unpublished)

CONTRACTS—Parties need not agree to specific provisions within their agreements if they have agreed that a third party would make the final decision as to how the missing provision should read.

Homeowners constructed a landscape berm and other improvements on their property that interfered with drainage on their neighbors’ property. The parties agreed to share the costs of constructing a new drainage system. They also agreed to retain a civil engineer to plan the drainage system and abide by his plan. The homeowners did not agree with the engineer’s plan, which they believed favored their neighbors and unduly burdened their property. They claimed that the settlement was not valid because: (a) they did not sign a consent order; and (b) their lack of agreement as to the final plans for the drainage system showed there was no “meeting of the minds.” The lower court disagreed and found in favor of the neighbors. The homeowners appealed, but the Appellate Division affirmed, finding that the validity of a settlement is not dependent on it being memorialized in writing. It is enforceable as long as the parties agreed to the essential terms of the settlement with advice of counsel and without fraud or duress. The Court found that the homeowners and neighbors, while not agreeing to the final plans for the drainage system at the settlement, did agree that the civil engineer would make the final decision regarding the drainage system. The homeowners agreed to that arrangement and could not challenge the settlement because they were unhappy with the engineer’s decision.

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