An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Proced ure.

NO. COA03-410


Filed: 03 February 2004


v .                         Person County
                            No. 99 CVS 625
Carolina Non-profit Organization
And the Individuals Named Herein
As Trustees and Their Capacity
as Trustees, et al,

    Appeal by plaintiffs from judgment entered 16 January 2003 by Judge W. Osmond Smith, III in Person County Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 15 January 2004.

    Browne, Flebotte, Wilson & Horn, PLLC, by Daniel R. Flebotte and Aaron C. Hemmings, for plaintiffs-appellants.

    Ramsey, Ramsey & Long, by James E. Ramsey, for defendants- appellees.

    STEELMAN, Judge.

    Plaintiffs, Allie Mae Bass and Roger Bass, appeal an order enforcing a settlement agreement between plaintiffs and defendants. Plaintiffs set forth two assignments of error. For the reasons discussed herein, we affirm the trial court.
    In the fall of 1998, Siloam Baptist Church began paving itsparking lot, which lies on the south side of State Road 1721 in Person County. Plaintiffs own land located on the north side of State Road 1721 and contend their property extends across the road and encompasses a small portion of the area paved by the church.
    On 15 November 1999, plaintiffs filed a complaint against defendants seeking a declaratory judgment to quiet title. Attorney Robert R. Chambers (Chambers) represented plaintiffs at the time the complaint was filed. Defendants answered and filed a counterclaim alleging adverse possession. All parties filed motions on 20 March 2002 for summary judgment, which were to be heard on 1 April 2002 by Judge Howard E. Manning, Jr. In addition to the case being calendared for hearing on the summary judgment motions, it was also placed on the trial calendar for the 1 April 2002 session. However, Chambers contacted Judge Manning on 28 March 2002 and informed him the case had been settled. The case was removed from both the motion calendar and the trial calendar.
    Also on 28 March 2002, Chambers sent a letter to Attorney James E. Ramsey (Ramsey), counsel for defendants, stating the settlement terms as follows: (1) defendants would purchase a small tract of land owned by plaintiffs, which was located on the north side of State Road 1721 for $500; (2) Chambers would prepare the deed and deliver it to Ramsey; and (3) Chambers would prepare a consent order containing these terms together with an agreement toremove of record the Notice of Boundary Dispute previously filed by plaintiffs.
    The paperwork necessary to consummate the settlement was not prepared by Chambers and tendered to the defendants during the summer of 2002. The case was placed back on the trial calendar for 7 October 2002. On that date, Chambers appeared and presented a letter showing that plaintiffs had fired him as their counsel of record. Attorney Dana Jones then made a limited appearance for the purpose of discussing settlement of the case with plaintiffs.
    On 28 October 2002, defendants filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement. At the hearing of that motion on 2 December 2002, Daniel Flebotte appeared and represented plaintiffs. The trial court found and concluded there was a valid, enforceable settlement agreement in March 2002 and plaintiffs had refused to comply with the terms of the agreement. The trial court ordered plaintiffs to convey title to the land located south of State Road 1721 to defendants and ordered defendants to pay $500 to the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs appeal.
    The sole issue before this court is whether the trial court erred in determining there was a valid, enforceable settlement agreement resolving this case.
    We note that the settlement of claims is favored in the law. Chappell v. Roth, 353 N.C. 690, 692, 548 S.E.2d 499, 500 (2001) .Settlement agreements are governed by the general principles of contract law. Id. Since the issue is a matter of contract interpretation, it is a question of law. Harris v. Ray Johnson Constr. Co., 139 N.C. App. 827, 829, 534 S.E.2d 653, 654 (2000). Thus, the standard of review by this Court is de novo. Id.
    For an agreement to constitute a valid contract, there must be a “meeting of the minds” as to the terms. Creech v. Melnik, 347 N.C. 520, 527, 495 S.E.2d 907, 911-12 (1998). “If any of the proposed terms is not settled, or no mode agreed on by which they may be settled, there is no agreement.” Boyce v. McMahan, 285 N.C. 730, 734, 208 S.E.2d 692, 695 (1974). Here, the terms of the settlement agreement were set forth clearly in Chambers' letter to Ramsey.
    Plaintiffs argues the contract did not comply with the North Carolina Statute of Frauds because they did not sign the letter. The N.C. Statute of Frauds states:
All contracts to sell or convey any lands, tenements or hereditaments, or any interest in or concerning them, and all leases and contracts for leasing land for the purpose of digging for gold or other minerals, or for mining generally, of whatever duration; and all other leases and contracts for leasing lands exceeding in duration three years from the making thereof, shall be void unless said contract, or some memorandum or note thereof, be put in writing and signed by the party to be charged therewith, or by some other person by him thereto lawfully authorized.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 22-2 (2001) (emphasis added). The Statute of Frauds expressly recognizes that the writing which it requires may be signed by an agent. Id. The authority of the agent to sign such an agreement need not be in writing. Lewis v. Allred, 249 N.C. 486, 489, 106 S.E.2d 689, 692 (1959). Additionally, “the authority of an agent to sell the lands of another may be shown aliunde or by parol.” Id. Thus, under the statute, the agreement may still be binding, even though plaintiffs did not sign it, if Chambers had plaintiffs' authority to act on their behalf.
    An attorney may only enter into an agreement discharging or terminating a cause of action on behalf of a client where the client gives “special authorization.” Harris, 139 N.C. App. at 829, 534 S.E.2d at 655. In North Carolina, there is a presumption in favor of an attorney's authority to act for the client he represents. Id at 829, 534 S.E.2d at 654. Where such special authorization is required, “it [is also] presumed ... that the attorney acted under and pursuant to such authorization." Id. at 829, 534 S.E.2d at 655 (quoting Greenhill v. Crabtree, 45 N.C. App. 49, 52, 262 S.E.2d 315, 317, aff'd per curiam, 301 N.C. 520, 271 S.E.2d 908 (1980). A client who challenges the actions of an attorney as being unauthorized has the burden of rebutting this presumption of authority and proving to the satisfaction of the court, the attorney's lack of authority to act on the client'sbehalf. Harris, 139 N.C. App. at 829, 534 S.E.2d at 655.
    The record in this matter shows plaintiffs presented no evidence at the hearing on defendant's motion to enforce the settlement agreement. Plaintiffs filed no response to defendant's motion and filed no affidavit in opposition to the motion. Plaintiffs failed to rebut the presumption of their attorney's authority.
    Rather, the record in this case contains evidence Chambers had apparent, if not actual, authority to act on plaintiffs' behalf. An agent's apparent authority is “that authority which the principal has held the agent out as possessing or which he has permitted the agent to represent that he possesses[.]” Zimmerman v. Hogg & Allen, Professional Asso., 286 N.C. 24, 30-31, 209 S.E.2d 795, 799 (1974). Chambers signed and filed with the court on plaintiff's behalf: (1) the complaint; (2) amended complaint; (3) reply to defendants' counterclaim; (4) motion to dismiss; (5) motion to strike; and (6) reply. Chambers appeared at the motion hearings on plaintiff's behalf. He entered into settlement negotiations with Ramsey and sent Ramsey a letter confirming the terms of the agreed upon settlement. Chambers also contacted Judge Manning, the presiding superior court judge, and represented to the court the matter was settled. In light of Chambers' actions on plaintiffs' behalf, we hold that Chambers had apparent authority toact on plaintiffs' behalf. As such, the settlement agreement does not violate the N.C. Statute of Frauds. The trial court did not err.
    Judges HUDSON and TYSON concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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