A husband will not be able to offer as evidence comments made during a mediated settlement conference with his ex-wife, the Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed.
In the matter of Dennis Jack Horner v. Marcia (Horner) Carter, No. 34S02-1210-DR-582, the Indiana Supreme Court rebuked the Indiana Court of Appeals conclusion that the confidentiality of mediation can be broken.
Dennis Horner had wanted to provide testimony of what he said at the mediation as extrinsic evidence that a mistake had been made in the final settlement agreement. The trial court excluded the discussions. While the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of relief, it ruled the trial court’s exclusion of the husband’s testimony was in error.
The COA’s findings surprised attorneys and mediators who noted caselaw supports the practice that everything said in mediation is confidential.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
In a footnote, the Supreme Court noted the COA based its decision on a different approach presented in the Uniform Mediation Act drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. UMA would permit disclosure and discovery of conduct and statements made during mediation in certain circumstances.
However, the Supreme Court pointed out Indiana has not adopted the UMA rules. Instead, Indiana adheres to the Alternative Dispute Resolution Rule 2.11 which holds that evidence of conduct or statements made in compromise negotiations or mediation is not admissible except when offered for a purpose other than to prove liability for or invalidity of the claim or its amount.
“The Court of Appeals concluded that the husband’s statements during the mediation could be admitted as extrinsic evidence to aid in the construction of an ambiguous agreement,” Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote for the court. “Indiana judicial policy strongly urges the amicable resolution of disputes and thus embraces a robust policy of confidentiality of conduct and statements made during negotiation and mediation. The benefits of compromise settlement agreements outweigh the risks that such policy may on occasion impede access to otherwise admissible evidence on an issue.”