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Armstrong v. Dossey

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

August 30, 2013

MARTHA ARMSTRONG, et al., Plaintiffs/Petitioners,
v.
BAKERSFIELD POLICE OFFICER DOSSEY, BADGE #897, et al., Defendants/Respondents.

ORDER GRANTING PETITION FOR COMPROMISE OF THE CLAIMS OF MINORS KERED ARMSTRONG AND DEREK ARMSTRONG, JR. (Docket No. 48)

SHEILA K. OBERTO, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On July 24, 2013, Plaintiff/Petitioner Martha Armstrong ("Armstrong"), the court-appointed guardian ad litem of Minor Plaintiff Kered Armstrong ("Kered"), and Petitioner Stephanie Tross ("Tross, " Armstrong and Tross are collectively "Petitioners"), the court-appointed guardian ad litem of Minor Plaintiff Derek Armstrong, Jr., ("Derek")[1] filed a Petition for Order Authorizing Compromise of the Claims of Minors. (Doc. 48.) Defendants Merced County, et al. ("Merced Defendants"), and Defendant R. Lonctot, R.N., ("Lonctot, " collectively "Defendants") filed Statements of Non-Opposition. (Docs. 53, 54.)

The matter was heard on August 21, 2013, before Magistrate Judge Sheila K. Oberto. (Doc. 58.) Plaintiffs/Petitioners' counsel personally appeared, and counsel for Lonctot appeared telephonically on behalf of all Defendants. (Doc. 58.) The Court had previously found good cause to allow the Petitioners and the Minor Plaintiffs to appear telephonically. (Doc. 56; s ee also Rule 202(d) of the Local Rules of the United States District Court, Eastern District of California.) On August 21, 2013, the parties consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction. (Doc. 59-62.)

After reviewing the petition and the terms of the settlement as set forth at the August 21, 2013, hearing, the Court finds that the proposed settlement agreement is fair and reasonable. The Petition for Order Authorizing Compromise of the Claims of Minors Kered Armstrong and Derek Armstrong, Jr., (Doc. 48) is GRANTED.

II. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Armstrong and Kered filed an original complaint on September 26, 2011. (Doc. 2.) The Merced Defendants filed an answer on December 23, 2011, and Lonctot filed an answer on March 2, 2012. (Docs. 9, 22.)

A second amended complaint ("SAC") was filed on February 14, 2013, adding Derek, through his guardian ad litem Tross, and Plaintiff Roshonta Collins ("Collins").[2] (Doc. 43.) The SAC is the operative pleading, and alleges claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants for failing to transport Decedent Derek Armstrong, Sr. ("Decedent") to a hospital to receive imminent and emergency medical care, excessive force, deliberate indifference to Decedent's health and safety, policies and practices of deliberate indifference, failure to provide adequate training and supervision, and failure to be free of excessive force. (Doc. 43, ¶¶ 33-50.) The SAC alleges that Decedent was the husband of Armstrong, the father of Minor Plaintiffs Kered and Derek, and that Collins was Decedent's adult daughter. (Doc. 43, ¶ 1.)

On July 10, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a Notice of Settlement. (Doc. 46.) On July 24, 2013, Plaintiffs filed the instant Petition for Order Authorizing Compromise of the Claims of Minors. (Doc. 48.) Lonctot and the Merced Defendants filed Statements of Non-Opposition on July 31, 2013, and August 1, 2013, respectively. (Docs. 53, 54.)

A hearing was held before the Court on August 21, 2013, to review the terms of the compromise settlement. (Doc. 58.)

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard for Compromise of Minor's Claim

As a derivative of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c), district courts have a special duty to safeguard the interests of litigants who are minors. Rule 17(c) provides, in pertinent part, that a district court "must appoint a guardian ad litem - or issue another appropriate order - to protect a minor or incompetent person who is unrepresented in an action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(c). In the context of proposed settlements in suits involving minor plaintiffs, the district court's special duty requires it to "conduct its own inquiry to determine whether the settlement serves the best interests of the minor." Robidoux v. Rosengren, 638 F.3d 1177, 1181 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Dacanay v. Mendoza, 573 F.2d 1075, 1080 (9th Cir. 1978) (internal citation marks omitted)).

In Robidoux, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit provided specific guidance "on how to conduct this independent inquiry." Robidoux, 638 F.3d at 1181. While the Ninth Circuit noted that district courts have typically applied state law and the local rules governing the award of attorney's fees to make the reasonableness and fairness determination, the court held that "this approach places an undue emphasis on the amount of attorney's fees provided for in a settlement, instead of focusing on the net recovery of the minor plaintiffs under the proposed agreement." Id. The Ninth Circuit held that, instead, district courts should "limit the scope of their review to the question whether the net amount distributed to each minor plaintiff in the settlement is fair and reasonable, in light of the facts of the case, the minor's specific claim, and recovery in similar cases." Id. at 1181-82. Further, the fairness of each minor plaintiff's net recovery should be evaluated "without regard to the proportion of the total settlement value designated for adult co-plaintiffs or plaintiffs' counsel - whose interests the district court has no special duty to safeguard." Id. at 1182 (citing Dacanay, 573 F.2d at 1078).

Local Rule 202(b) sets forth that "[n]o claim by or against a minor or incompetent person may be settled or compromised absent an order by the Court approving the settlement or compromise." Local Rule 202(b)(2) further provides in pertinent ...


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