IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
July 19, 2010
J.Z., A MINOR BY AND THROUGH HIS GUARDIAN AD LITEM, JASON ZYSMAN, PLAINTIFF,
AMADOR COUNTY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT AND ALLAN VAN VELZEN, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland E. Burrell, Jr. United States District Judge
Plaintiff, a minor by and through his guardian ad litem, filed a petition for approval of minor's compromise ("Petition") on June 21, 2010. The Petition was heard on July 19, 2010. Plaintiff seeks in his Petition approval of a $150,000 settlement reached by the parties on May 7, 2010 during mediation of Plaintiff's claims ("Settlement Payment"). The reasons stated in the Petition and at the hearing are sufficient to justify approving it, and it will be approved.
A federal court is required to considered the fairness of a settlement to a minor and "[i]n considering the fairness... federal courts generally are guided by state law." Schwall v. Meadow Wood Apartments, 2008 WL 552432, at *1 (E.D. Cal. 2008) (citing 2 Schwarzer, Tashima & Wagstaffe, California Practice Guide, Federal Procedure Before Trial (2002) Pretrial Conference and Settlement Procedures, ¶ 15:138; Cal. Prob. Code § 3601; and Cal. Code Civ. P. § 372). Further, the court approving a minor's compromise "shall... authoriz[e] and direct that reasonable expenses, medical or otherwise and including reimbursement to a parent,... shall be paid from the money or other property to be paid or delivered for the benefit of the minor...." Cal. Prob Code § 3601(a).
The Petition includes a request for approval of payment of $37,499*fn1 in attorney's fees to Plaintiff's counsel at the law office of Beyer Pongratz & Rosen. Additionally, Plaintiff seeks payment of $495.26 for filing fees, process server fees, and other copy fees to Beyer Pongratz & Rosen and reimbursement to Plaintiff's parents for an initial fee of $1,500 paid to Beyer Pongratz & Rosen, for a total of $1995.26 in costs. (Id. 5:19-6:2) The $37,499 represents 25% of the gross proceeds of the Settlement Payment, which was agreed to in an August 20, 2009 contingency fee agreement entered into by Plaintiff through his guardian ad litem. (Petition 5:25-27.) "The Sacramento County Superior Court's local rule governing attorney's fees for claims brought by minors prescribes that 25% 'shall be considered reasonable under usual circumstances' for '[s]ettlement[s] without the commencement of a court trial,' which is the case here." Welch v. Cnty of Sacramento, 2008 WL 3285412, at *1 (E.D. Cal. 2008) (quoting Local Rules for the Super. Ct. of Cal., County of Sacramento R. 10.02).
Plaintiff also seeks to have disbursed from the Settlement Payment, payment to the law firm that represented Plaintiff in injunction matters related to this case and to the law firm that represented Plaintiff in a criminal matter Plaintiff also represents is related to this case. Specifically, Plaintiff seeks payment of $5,200.23 to Beyer Pongratz & Rosen for defending Plaintiff in the criminal matter, and payment of $4,601 to the law office of Bowman & Associates for representing Plaintiff "in several restraining order matters related to altercations at school in which Plaintiff was involved." (Id. 6:5-6.) Plaintiff has sufficiently explained the appropriateness of paying these fees.
Lastly, Plaintiff seeks to have disbursed from the Settlement Payment $2,015.66 to his parents for medical bills advanced on behalf of Plaintiff. California Probate Code § 3601 prescribes that the court approving a minor's compromise "shall... authoriz[e] and direct that reasonable expenses, medical or otherwise and including reimbursement to a parent,..., shall be paid from the money or other property to be paid or delivered for the benefit of the minor...." Cal. Prob. Code § 3601(a). Plaintiff explains in the Petition that his "father has medical insurance from his employer but has still incurred out-of-pocket medical expenses related to [Plaintiff's] psychological condition...." (Petition 6:16-17.) Further, the Petition describes how the $2,015.66 was spent on Plaintiff's medical condition.
The settlement reached is reasonable and fair, and in the best interests of the minor; therefore, the minor's compromise is approved. Accordingly, disbursement of the $150,000 settlement funds shall be paid to Plaintiff's counsel for distribution as follows: $2,015.66 shall be reimbursed to Plaintiff's parents for medical bills advanced on behalf of Plaintiff; $1,500 shall be reimbursed to Plaintiff's parents for legal costs advanced on behalf of Plaintiff; $37,994.26 shall be paid to the law office of Beyer Pongratz & Rosen for attorney's fees and costs; $5,200.23 shall be paid to Beyer Pongratz & Rosen to satisfy the lien for defending Plaintiff in the above-referenced criminal matter; and $4,601 shall be paid to the law office of Bowman & Associates for representing Plaintiff the above-referenced injunction matters. The remaining $98,688.85 shall be deposited into an FDIC insured blocked account on behalf of Plaintiff, and none of this deposited money shall be withdrawn without court order or until August 20, 2011, the date on which Plaintiff reaches the age of majority. Lastly, Plaintiff's counsel agreed at the hearing to represent the minor should the minor seek to withdraw any of the referenced deposited money before he reaches the age of majority, and that the 25% in attorneys' fees includes any necessary representation for this purpose.
This case shall be closed.