United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division
ALPHONSO GUERRERO, IRENE GUERRERO, A.G., a minor by and through his guardian ad litem ALPHONSO GUERRERO, JEFF McDOUGAL, CINDY McDOUGALL, A.M., a minor by and through his guardian ad litem, JEFF McDOUGAL, CLAY PLUMMER, JENNIFER PLUMMER, J.P., a minor by and through her guardian ad litem CLAY PLUMMER, JOHN REYNOLDS, CINDY REYNOLDS, P.R., a minor by and through her guardian ad litem JOHN REYNOLDS, PHILIP RODRIGUEZ, JENNIFER RODRIGUEZ, R.R., a minor by and through her guardian ad litem PHILIP RODRIGUEZ, TANIA STREETE, B.S., a minor by and through his guardian ad litem TANIA STREETE, K.G., a minor by and through his guardian ad litem SYLVIA GALLEGOS, L.L., a minor by and through his guardian ad litem JIM LARK, Plaintiffs,
BRENTWOOD UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT, DINA HOLDER, LAURI JAMES, MERRILL GRANT, MARGARET KRUSE, MARGO OLSON, JEAN ANTHONY and DOES 1-30, Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR APPROVAL OF THE SETTLEMENT OF MINORS' CLAIMS [Re: ECF No. 45]
LAUREL BEELER, Magistrate Judge.
In this case, eight minor children and the parents of six of them-Alphonso Guerrero, Irene Guererro, A.G. (through his guardian ad litem Alphonso Guerrero), Jeff McDougal, Cindy McDougal, A.M. (through his guardian ad litem Jeff McDougal), Clay Plummer, Jennifer Plummer, J.P. (through his guardian ad litem Clay Plummer), John Reynolds, Cindy Reynolds, P.R. (through her guardian ad litem John Renolds), Philip Rodriguez, Jennifer Rodriguez, R.R. (through her guardian ad litem Philip Rodriguez), Tania Streete, B.S. (through his guardian ad litem Tania Streete), K.G. (through his guardian ad litem Sylvia Gallegos), and L.L. (through his guardian ad litem Jim Lark) (collectively, "Plaintiffs")-sued Brentwood Union School District ("BUSD"), Dina Holder, Lauri James, Merrill Grant, Margaret Kruse, Margo Olson and Jean Anthony (collectively, "Defendants") under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and other state laws. Complaint, ECF No. 1. On December 27, 2013, before any formal mediation was conducted, the parties' counsel and representatives from Northern California Relief, the insurance carrier for BUSD met and agreed to recommend to their clients a joint settlement of $8 million to be paid to Plaintiffs. Defendants agreed to cooperate with Plaintiffs in the event they elected a structured settlement for a portion of the settlement funds. The BUSD board approved the proposed settlement on January 22, 2014. Plaintiffs have agreed to this settlement.
Now, Plaintiffs ask the court to approve the settlement of the minors' claims. Motion, ECF No. 45. Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), the court finds this matter suitable for determination without oral argument and vacates the April 17, 2014 hearing. For the reasons stated below, the court GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion.
Plaintiffs filed their complaint against Defendants on August 21, 2013. The complaint alleges claims against Ms. Holder under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating the minor plaintiffs' rights of under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment and the adult plaintiffs' rights under the Fourteenth Amendment's substantiative due process clause. The complaint also alleges that the BUSD administrator defendants were deliberately indifferent to the risk that Plaintiffs would suffer violations of their constitutional rights. The complaint also alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act for creating of a hostile educational environment. See generally Complaint, ECF No. 1.
Plaintiffs allege that Ms. Holder, who was the children's pre-kindergarten teacher, subjected the children to regular acts of child abuse or neglect and observed acts of child abuse or neglect being inflicted on other special needs children in their classroom, including, but not limited to, yelling, swearing and inappropriately aggressive physical contact. The children each suffered physical and emotional injuries as a result. Plaintiffs also allege that Ms. James, who is the principal of the school, and BUSD responded to the incident improperly. See id. at 2-4, ¶¶ 10-24.
The parties have now agreed to recommend to their clients at settlement of $8 million to be paid to Plaintiffs. On March 13, 2014, after approval by the BUSD board, Plaintiffs filed the motion now before the court, asking the court to approve the settlement of the minors' claims. Motion, ECF No. 45. Defendants filed statements of non-opposition to Plaintiffs' motion. Statements, ECF Nos. 46-47.
I. LEGAL STANDARD
"District courts have a special duty, derived from Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c), to safeguard the interests of litigants who are minors." Robidoux v. Rosengren, 638 F.3d 1177, 1181 (9th Cir. 2011). "Rule 17(c) provides, in relevant 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.'" Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(c)). "In the context of proposed settlements in suits involving minor plaintiffs, this special duty requires a district court to conduct its own inquiry to determine whether the settlement serves the best interests of the minor.'" Id. (quoting Dacanay v. Mendoza, 573 F.2d 1075, 1080 (9th Cir. 1978)).
As the Ninth Circuit has recently made clear, in cases involving the settlement of a minor's federal claims, 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, " and should "evaluate the fairness of each minor plaintiff's net recovery 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 1181-82 (citing Dacanay, 573 F.2d at 1078).
A. Terms and Allocation of ...