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Rachel Prescott, et al v. County of Stanislaus

June 18, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jennifer L. Thurston United States Magistrate Judge


Rachael Prescott, guardian ad litem for A.P., C.P., R.P, M.P, T.P., and Y.P. (collectively, "Minor Plaintiffs"), seeks approval of the settlement for the claims of the Minor Plaintiffs in this action. (Doc. 131). Defendants do not oppose the petition. The Court has read and considered the pleadings and arguments of counsel. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is GRANTED.

1. Procedural History

Plaintiffs are the surviving relatives and successors-in-interest of Craig Prescott, who died while in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail on April 11, 2009. (Doc. 37 at 1-2). Plaintiffs allege Mr. Prescott was awaiting trial for violating a restraining order obtained against him by his wife, and that Mr. Prescott "had been exhibiting psychotic symptoms for several weeks prior to his death." Id. at 4. In addition, Plaintiffs allege Mr. Prescott "exhibited bizarre behavior while he was in custody and this was noted by jail staff and jail medical personnel." Id. Specifically, Plaintiffs contend Nurse Mandryano observed Mr. Prescott "appeared "disshevled‟ (sic), that his speech was "loose and disorganized‟, that his thoughts were "delusional‟ with "religious preoccupations‟, that he seemed to be 2 "responding to internal stimuli‟; that his behavior was "co-operative but remains bizarre" and that he 3 appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol." Id. at 4-5. Ms. Mandryano opined Mr. 4 Prescott had "possible bipolar disorder or drug psychosis." Id. at 5.

On April 9, 2009, Dr. Baker saw Mr. Prescott and noted he "appeared "preoccupied", that his 6 thoughts were "rambling, loose, and loud‟ and that he exhibited "poor boundaries‟ and "becomes 7 increasingly agitated.‟" (Doc. 37 at 5). Based upon his examination, Dr. Baker‟s impression was Mr. 8 Prescott suffered from drug abuse. Id. Dr. Baker recommended Mr. Prescott take medications, but the 9 treatment was refused. Id.

Plaintiffs contend Mr. Prescott died as a result of an altercation with deputies in the jail, who are also defendants in this action, when the deputies forcibly removed him from his cell on April 11, 2009. (Doc. 37 at 5-6). According to Plaintiffs, at least three deputies discharged Tasers on Mr. Prescott and the force included water balls discharged with a pepper ball launcher. Id. at 6. During the course of the extraction, a nurse administered two milligrams of Ativan to Mr. Prescott, after which deputies took him "off the mattress and dragged him into the safety cell." Id. After being placed in the safety cell, Mr. Prescott was stunned with a Taser to gain compliance, and deputies began to remove the constraints, at which time they noticed Mr. Prescott was no longer breathing. Id. Medical personnel and deputies performed CPR, and Mr. Prescott was transferred to a hospital, where he later died. Id.

On April 6, 2012, Rachel Prescott,*fn1 individually and as guardian ad litem for decedent‟s minor children, initiated this action against the County of Stanislaus, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, California Forensic Medical Group, and Does 1 through 25. (Docs. 1-2). March 4, 2011, Plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion to amend the complaint, and identified several "Doe" defendants, including Dr. John Baker. (Docs. 34-35). Plaintiffs‟ motion was granted on April 25, 2011, and the Court deemed the operative complaint to be Plaintiffs‟ revised proposed amended complaint (Doc. 37). (See Doc. 43). Plaintiffs seek monetary damages for the use of excessive force, inadequate medical care, failure to supervise and train, and deprivation of familiar relations in 2 violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Doc. 37 at 6-10). In addition, Plaintiffs seek to recover 3 damages for wrongful death. Id. at 9. 4

On March 7, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a notice of settlement, advising the Court the matter had "tentatively" been resolved, "subject to the approval of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors." (Doc. 124). In addition, defendants California Forensic Medical Group and Dr. Baker filed a notice of 7 settlement, assert the claims "tentatively settled through mediation," subject to the filing and granting 8 of a petition for minor‟s compromise. (Doc. 129).

Plaintiffs filed the petition for approval of the settlement claims of the Minor Plaintiffs on May 11, 2012. (Doc. 131). Pursuant to the Court‟s order, Plaintiffs‟ counsel filed supplemental declarations setting forth the costs incurred in this matter and how the costs were necessary to the prosecution of the action. (Docs. 132-34).

At the hearing on June 18, 2012, Mrs. Prescott reported that she understood the terms of the settlement agreement and was satisfied that it was fair and expressed also that she was entering into the settlement without any reservation.

II. Settlement Approval

No settlement or compromise of "a claim by or against a minor or incompetent person" is effective unless it is approved by the Court. Local Rule 202(b). The purpose of requiring the Court‟s approval is to provide an additional level of oversight to ensure that the child‟s interests are protected. Accordingly, Local Rule 202(b) requires the petition seeking approval of the settlement to disclose: the age and sex of the minor . . ., the nature of the causes of action to be settled or compromised, the facts and circumstances out of which the causes of action arose, including the time, place and persons involved, the manner in which the compromise amount . . .was determined, including such additional information as may be required to enable the Court to determine the fairness of the settlement or compromise, and, if a personal injury claim, the nature and extent of the injury with sufficient particularity to inform the Court whether the injury is temporary or permanent.

Local Rule 202(b)(2). Generally, in determining whether to approve the compromise of a minor‟s claims, federal courts refer to applicable state law. See e.g., Walden v. Moffett, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70507, at *6 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 20, 2007); MAP v. City of Bakersfield, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7519, at *5 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 23, 2009); see also Schwarzer, Tashima & Wagstaffe, California Practice Guide: 2 Federal Civil Procedure before Trial § 15:138, p. 15-48 (2010). In California, a settlement or 3 compromise of a claim of a minor is not enforceable without court approval. Cal. Prob. Code §§ 2504, 4 3600 et seq.; Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 372 ("The guardian ... or guardian ad litem so ...

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