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E.R. v. County of Stanislaus

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 16, 2016

E.R. et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF STANISLAUS, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS RECOMMENDING GRANTING AND APPROVING PLAINTIFFS' PETITION FOR APPROVAL OF MINORS' SETTLEMENT (ECF Nos. 94, 98, 99) OBJECTIONS DUE WITHIN FOURTEEN DAYS

         On April 5, 2016, the undersigned conducted a settlement conference in this action at which the parties reached a settlement agreement. On May 31, 2016, Plaintiff Ruby Rodrigues and Plaintiffs E.R., K.R., and S.R., through their guardian ad litem, Corina Marez, filed a motion to grant an unopposed petition for approval of minors' settlement. (ECF No. 94.) On May 31, 2016, the parties filed a stipulation that the Court refer Plaintiffs' pending petition for approval of minors' settlement to the undersigned for the purpose of issuing findings and recommendations. (ECF No. 95.) On June 6, 2016, United States District Judge Dale A. Drozd granted the parties' request and the petition was referred to the undersigned for the purpose of issuing findings and recommendations for District Judge Drozd's consideration. (ECF No. 96.) On June 7, 2016, the Court directed Defendants Correct Care Solutions, LLC ("CCS"), County of Stanislaus, and Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department to file a statement of non-opposition or a statement indicating intent to file opposition. (ECF No. 97.) On June 7, 2016, Defendants filed statements of non-opposition. (ECF Nos. 98, 99.)

         The Court has reviewed the relevant portions of the record and the petition for approval of minors' settlement. Pursuant to Local Rule 230(g), the Court finds this matter suitable for decision without oral argument. Having considered the moving papers and court record, the Court issues the following findings and recommendations recommending granting Plaintiffs' petition for approval of minors' settlement.

         I.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs filed this action in the Superior Court of California, County of Stanislaus, on February 4, 2013. On March 12, 2014, Plaintiffs amended the complaint in the Superior Court of California, County of Stanislaus. On May 2, 2014, Defendant CCS timely removed the action to this Court. On July 9, 2014, the Court granted CCS's motion to dismiss with leave to amend. On July 14, 2014, Plaintiffs filed the second amended complaint. (ECF No. 37.) On April 8, 2015, Plaintiffs filed an ex parte application for leave to file a third amended complaint, which the Court granted on April 15, 2015. (ECF Nos. 61, 63.) On July 7, 2015, Plaintiffs filed an ex parte application for leave to file a fourth amended complaint ("FAC"), which the Court granted on July 14, 2015. (ECF Nos. 67, 68.) On July 14, 2015, the FAC was filed. (ECF No. 69.) Plaintiffs bring this action for negligence, medical negligence, and civil rights violations.

         On January 12, 2012, decedent Steven Virgil Rodrigues was arrested by the Turlock Police Department and taken to Stanislaus County Men's Jail. FAC ¶ 12. Upon arrival, as he was "crying hysterically and visibly shaking, " decedent received a medical screening which included questions about his mental health. Id. When asked whether he was experiencing suicidal ideation, he responded affirmatively. Id. The intake report also noted that decedent had previously attempted suicide and was suffering from mental health problems requiring referral to special housing and routine follow up. Id. On January 18, 2012, decedent was placed in a safety cell after expressing to CCS's employees that he "didn't want to be in the world anymore" and that he wanted to hang himself. Id. He was described as "severely depressed" and "hopeless." Id. Nonetheless, he was returned to a regular cell the next day. Id.

         On February 17, 2012, decedent attempted to commit suicide by lacerating his arm. Id. ¶ 13. His attempt was unsuccessful, and he was taken for treatment to the Doctors Medical Center ("DMC") in Modesto, California. Id. Upon his release back to the Jail, doctors instructed he be placed on a seventy-two-hour hold because he remained suicidal. Id. Consistent with this instruction, decedent was placed in a safety cell upon his return to the Jail. Id. ¶ 14. However, he remained there for only sixteen hours before being transferred to a regular cell. Id. On February 19, 2012, decedent committed suicide by hanging. Id. ¶ 15.

         II.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         Local Rule 202(b) states 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." Any application for approval of a proposed settlement or compromise must disclose, among other things, the following:

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....

Local Rule 202(b)(2). Additionally, when, as here, the minor is represented by an attorney, the representation must be disclosed to the Court, including the terms of employment and "whether the attorney became involved in the application at the instance of the party against whom the causes of action are asserted, directly or indirectly; whether the attorney stands in any relationship to that party; and whether the attorney has received or expects to receive any compensation, from whom, and the amount." Local Rule 202(c).

         "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). "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 However, in Robidoux, the Ninth Circuit cautioned that this inquiry "requires only that the district court consider whether the net recovery of each minor plaintiff is fair and reasonable, without regard to the amount received by adult co-plaintiffs and what they have agreed to pay plaintiffs' counsel." Id at 1182 (holding that district court erred in denying settlement based solely on the proportion of the settlement going to plaintiffs' counsel).

         III.

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