Kevin O'Neill, Lisa C. O'Neill, and American Quality Construction, Inc., d/b/a/ Estate Homes, Appellants,
Zoe Herrington, Defendant, and Greg T. Spies, and McDowell, Rice, Smith & Buchanan, P.C., Appellees.
SYLLABUS BY THE COURT
1. The essential elements of a valid informal contract are as follows: (a) A promisor and a promisee each of whom has legal capacity to act as such in the proposed contract; (b) manifestation of assent by the parties who form the contract to the terms thereof and by every promisor to the consideration for his or her promise; (c) a sufficient consideration; and (d) the transaction, though satisfying the foregoing requirements, must be one that is not void by statute or by special rules of the common law.
2. When determining whether a settlement agreement has been formed, it is important to remember the key principle that the law favors settlement of disputes.
3. Settlements need not be in writing to be enforceable.
4. Because a settlement agreement is a contract, what is required is that the parties reach agreement on all material terms. Once that is done, any nonmaterial discrepancies can be resolved by the court consistent with the parties' intent when they agreed upon the material terms.
5. When one party has made a settlement offer and the other party has unconditionally accepted it, neither party may call off the agreement.
6. When the controlling facts are based upon written or documentary evidence by way of pleadings, admissions, depositions, and stipulations, the trial court has no peculiar opportunity to evaluate the credibility of witnesses. In such situation, an appellate court has as good an opportunity to examine and consider the evidence as did the trial court and to determine de novo what the facts establish.
7. Whether a contract exists is a question of fact. On appeal, we review the record to determine whether substantial competent evidence exists to support that factual conclusion.
8. In determining intent to form a contract, the test is objective, rather than subjective, meaning that the relevant inquiry is the manifestation of a party's intention, rather than the actual or real intention. In other words, the inquiry will focus not on the question of whether the subjective minds of the parties have met, but on whether their outward expression of assent is sufficient to form a contract.
9. Undisclosed intentions of negotiating parties are not to be considered when construing the intent of the parties to a contract.
10. Only disclosed intentions can be part of the parties' contract.
11. When parties condition a contract on it being reduced to writing and signed, there is no enforceable contract until such act is accomplished.
12. Parties can bind themselves to a contract orally or by informal letters or emails.
13. The fact that the parties contemplate the subsequent execution of a formal instrument as evidence of their agreement does not necessarily imply they have not already bound themselves to a definite and enforceable contract.
14. A pro se litigant in a civil case is required to follow the same rules of procedure and evidence which are binding upon a litigant who is represented by counsel. Our legal system cannot function on any basis other than equal treatment of all litigants. To have different rules for different classes of litigants is untenable. A party in civil litigation cannot expect the trial judge or an attorney for the other party to advise him or her of the law or court rules or to see that his or her case is properly presented to the court. A pro se litigant in a civil case cannot be given either an advantage or a disadvantage solely because of proceeding pro se.
Appeal from Johnson District Court; Thomas M. Sutherland, judge.
Nathan D. Leadstrom, of Goodell, Stratton, Edmonds & Palmer, L.L.P., of Topeka, for appellants Kevin O'Neill and Lisa C. O'Neill.
J. Nick Badgerow, of Spencer Fane Britt & Browne, LLP, of Overland Park, and Thomas R. Buchanan, Linda C. McFee, and Jason L. Buchanan, of McDowell, Rice, Smith & Buchanan, P.C., of Kansas City, Missouri, for appellees.
Before Malone, C.J., Green and Bruns, JJ.