By Bill Yanger
As a father of three, all in their twenties, I can look back on many parenting moments that, while being the source of the humbling silver tint of my hair (my word; most just call it what it is: gray), have become good stories to chuckle about these many years later. Too many fender benders, a few creepy friends (okay, boys), busted curfews and little white lies. Yeah, imagine that. Love hurts.
And of course there were the less than funny cringe-worthy moments when I'd just shake my head and mumble "...gotta love 'em..." right before I had to cut a check. As they say, being a dad is not for amateurs.
So, I read with empathy the plight of the parents in the recent case out of South Florida Gulliver Schools v. Patrick Snay, Case No. 3D13-1952 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2014). It seems Mr. Snay and his employer, the school, settled a particularly prickly lawsuit that included a payment of $80,000 to Mr. Snay and an additional payment for his attorney fees. As is common if not universal in litigation these days, a condition of the written settlement agreement was complete confidentiality. Not just a "hey, let's move on and not talk about this thing" deal, but as the Appellate Court pointed out, a specifically worded "unambiguous" agreement that "neither Mr. Snay nor his wife would 'either directly or indirectly' disclose to anyone other than their lawyers or other professionals 'any information' regarding the existence or the terms of the parties' agreement." Clear enough, right?
Soon after the settlement though, the Snays' daughter, a former Gulliver student and herself being about as unambiguous as one can imagine, posted this to her 1,200 Facebook pals, some Gulliver students: "Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT."
Needless to say, Gulliver did not take too kindly to the post much less the obvious breach of confidentiality that prompted it and withheld the $80,000 payment to Mr. Snay. After more lawyer tangling and a ruling favorable to Snay in the trial court, the Third District gave its own unambiguous assessment: "...before the ink was dry on the agreement, and notwithstanding the clear language of section 13 mandating confidentiality, Snay violated the agreement by doing exactly what he had promised not to do." Whack! Goodbye 80 grand. I'm inclined to believe some Gulliver folks silently echoed young Miss Snay's sentiments back in her direction after reading that little admonishment.
So, what's the lesson here? A cautionary tale about confidentiality in legal documents? Absolutely. When you agree to say nothing to anyone, say nothing. To anyone. We as lawyers can harp and nag and warn but ultimately the client needs to understand and abide by the terms of what he or she signs.
But as a father I feel for the guy. Was he really expected to keep his daughter, who had apparently lived with the case for years and suffered retaliation at the school, in the dark? The dad in me says no way. But the Court said yes.
Sometimes you just shake your head and say "...gotta love 'em."