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Bridgman v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 20, 2014

Bridgman, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
United States of America, Defendant.

ORDER THAT THE PETITION FOR COMPROMISE OF THE CLAIM OF MINOR SEAN JENNINGS BE GRANTED (Doc. 41)

SHEILA K. OBERTO, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On November 3, 2014, James Bridgman ("Petitioner"), as the court-appointed guardian ad litem of the named minor, Plaintiff Sean Jennings ("Sean"), filed a petition to approve the proposed settlement between Sean and the United States of America ("United States").[1] (Doc. 41.) On November 17, 2014, Defendant United States filed a response setting forth its non-opposition to the petition for approval of the proposed settlement between Sean and the United States, and requesting that payment of the settlement be ordered according to the terms agreed to by the parties in the Settlement Agreement. (Doc. 43.) No oral argument was requested.

After reviewing the petition and reviewing the terms of the settlement, the Court finds that the proposed settlement agreement is fair and reasonable. For the reasons that follow, the Court ORDERS that the "Petition for Compromise of the Claim of Minor Sean Jennings Pursuant to Settlement with Defendant United States of America" ("petition") BE APPROVED and is GRANTED.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The case was originally filed on May 21, 2013, by Plaintiffs James Kenneth Bridgman, Janie Bridgman, and Sean Jennings, a minor, against the United States. (Doc. 1.) Petitioner was appointed guardian ad litem for Sean on October 8, 2013. (Doc. 8.)

Plaintiffs' claims arise from an incident on December 10, 2009, in the City of Atwater, County of Merced, in the State of California, when a vehicle driven by Defendant's employee Nathan Daniel Yocom, a sailor with the United States Department of the Navy, collided with the side of a vehicle driven by Plaintiff James Bridgman in which Plaintiffs Janie Bridgman and Sean Jennings were passengers. (Docs. 1, 1-2; 41, 2.) According to Plaintiffs, Defendant's employee "carelessly and negligently drove, operated, maintained, controlled, inspected and repaired" his vehicle, "thereby proximately causing [the vehicle] to collide" with Plaintiffs' vehicle.

On or about November 23, 2011, Plaintiffs submitted claims for damages pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, and the Department of the Navy responded with offers to settle, none of which were accepted by Plaintiffs. (Doc. 1, 2.) As a proximate result of the accident, Plaintiffs allege that each suffered from physical injuries, physical and mental pain, lost income or wages, and incurred medical expenses. (Doc. 1, 2.) Plaintiffs demand $20, 000.00 damages for Sean's injuries, specifically. (Doc. 1, 3.)

III. DISCUSSION

A. The Settlement Between Minor Sean Jennings and the United States

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)).

In the Ninth Circuit, this "inquiry" is limited "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." Robidoux, 638 F.3d at 1181-82. The fairness of each minor plaintiff's net recovery is 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).

In addition to the substantive requirements in considering the compromise of a minor's claim, Local Rules ("L.R.") in the Eastern District of California govern the procedure for submitting requests for approval of a proposed settlement or compromise of a minor. L.R. 202(b)(2); see also L.R. 202(b)(1) (in actions in which a minor is represented by an appointed representative where the United States courts have exclusive jurisdiction, "the motion for approval of a proposed settlement or compromise shall be filed and calendared pursuant to L.R. 230.") An application for approval of a settlement of a minor

... shall disclose, among other things, the age and sex of the minor or incompetent, 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 or other consideration 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. If reports of physicians or other similar experts have been prepared, such reports shall be ...

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