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Horace Mann Insurance Company v. Randal Force

April 18, 2013

HORACE MANN INSURANCE COMPANY,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
RANDAL FORCE, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



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

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO APPROVE SETTLEMENT AND RECOMMENDING THE ACTION BE DISMISSED AS TO THE GONZALEZ DEFENDANTS (Doc. 26) ORDER TO PLAINTIFF TO SEEK DEFAULT AGAINST THE FORCE DEFENDANTS OR DISMISS THE MATTER IN ITS ENTIRETY

Defendant L.G. is a minor appearing in this proceeding by and through his guardian ad litem Jessie Gonzalez, who seeks approval of the minor's compromise in this action. (Doc. 26). No opposition to the motion was filed. After reviewing the motion, the Court found the matter was suitable for decision without a hearing pursuant to Local Rule 230(g), and the motion was taken under submission on April 17, 2013. For the following reasons, the Court recommends Plaintiff's motion for approval of the settlement be GRANTED.

I. Factual and Procedural History

Horace Mann Insurance Company ("Horace Mann") initiated this action on March 1, 2012, by filing a complaint for declaratory relief against Randal and Jennifer Force ("Force Defendants"), L.G., Jessie and Jody Gonzalez ("Gonzalez Defendants"). (Doc. 1). Horace Mann issued a homeowner's 2 policy to the Force Defendants on October 10, 2010. Id. at 3. According to Horace Mann, Jennifer 3

Force operated "a business licensed by the State of California as a 'small family day care home.'" Id. 4

On September 12, 2011, defendant L.G. was injured while at the daycare "when a wire from a 5 collapsible hamper poked him in the eye." Id. Thereafter, L.G., though his parents, "made a policy 6 limits demand to Horace Mann" and the Force Defendants requested coverage under the homeowner's 7 insurance policy for L.G.'s claims. Id. at 4. 8

Horace Mann alleged it does not have a duty to provide coverage for the claims pursuant to Cal. Ins. Code § 676.1, and the insurance policy excluded coverage for the claim. (Doc. 1 at 4-5). Thus, Horace Mann requested the Court find the claim of defendant L.G. was barred by the policy, and that the company "has no duty to defend or indemnify its insureds, Randal and Jennifer Force, against claims for indemnity brought by [L.G.]" Id. at 8.

On March 2, 2013, Jessie Gonzalez filed the motion now before the Court, asserting the parties have reached a settlement agreement in the action, and seeking the Court's approval of its terms. (Doc. 26). In essence, the Gonzalez defendants admit that the policy exclusions preclude coverage for the injury. Id at 2.

II. Settlement Approval Standards

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. Toward this end, a party seeking approval of the settlement must 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, federal courts refer to applicable state law in determining whether to approve the settlement of a minor's claims. 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 2 *5 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 23, 2009); see also Schwarzer, Tashima & Wagstaffe, California Practice Guide: 3

Federal Civil Procedure before Trial § 15:138, p. 15-48 (2010). In California, a settlement or 4 compromise of a claim of a minor is not enforceable without court approval. Cal. Prob. Code §§ 2504, 5 3600 et seq.; Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 372 ("The guardian. . . or guardian ad litem so appearing for any 6 minor . . . shall have power, with the approval of the court in which the action or proceeding is 7 pending, to compromise the same. . .") (emphasis added). 8

III. Discussion and Analysis 9

The petition in this case sets forth the information that is required. The minor involved is a 3-year-old male who has made a claim on an insurance policy of Horace Mann. Also, the petition identifies the guardian ad litem and the attorney representing L.G. by name, address and bar number. The attorney will not receive ...


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