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Bravo v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 21, 2016

EMELIN BRAVO, a minor by and through her guardian ad litem; BLANCA RIVERA; BLANCA RIVERA; and ROGELIO BRAVO, individually, Plaintiffs,


         On May 19, 2016, plaintiffs Emelin Bravo by and through her guardian ad litem Blanca Rivera, and Blanca Rivera and Rogelio Bravo, individually, filed the instant petition for approval of compromise of claim of minor. (Doc. No. 46.) The government filed a response. (Doc. No. 48.) Thereafter, at the request of the court, plaintiff filed as an exhibit the written stipulation for compromise settlement entered by the parties. (Doc. No. 50.) Finally, on June 20, 2016, plaintiffs' counsel submitted an amended proposed order with exhibits setting forth the breakdown of disbursements under the proposed settlement including the final lien calculation. (Doc. No. 52) The motion was heard on June 21, 2016. Counsel Carl McMahan appeared telephonically for plaintiffs and Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey Lodge appeared on behalf of defendant. (Id.)

         After reviewing the petition and terms of the written settlement agreement, the court finds that the proposed settlement agreement is fair and reasonable. The court therefore will approve the written settlement agreement and grants the petition for approval of compromise of claim of minor.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs Emelin Bravo, Blanca Rivera, Rogelio Bravo filed the complaint in this action on June 26, 2014. (Doc. No. 1.) The complaint alleges medical malpractice claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") 28 U.S.C. § 2671 and alleges damages for medical negligence arising from the care and treatment of plaintiff Blanca Rivera during her prenatal, labor and delivery of minor plaintiff Emelin Bravo at a federally supported community health center that has been deemed a Public Health Service employee for purposes of the FTCA . (Id.) During labor and delivery, minor plaintiff Emelin Bravo suffered a right brachial plexus paralysis (weakness of her right upper extremity), her mother Blanca Rivera suffered a separation of her symphysis pubis, which required surgery to repair, and the father Rogelio Bravo alleges he suffered emotional distress. (Id.) The government filed an answer to plaintiffs' complaint on September 30, 2014. (Doc. No. 5.)

         On April 29, 2016, this case settled at a settlement conference before the assigned magistrate judge. (Doc. Nos. 44 and 45.)


         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 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 part that 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 . . .

         B. Terms of the Compromise Settlement

         A global settlement offer to plaintiffs of $325, 000 was accepted, which includes payment of attorney's fees and costs. (Doc. No. 50, at 2-3.) The settlement is inclusive of all claims against defendant and is intended to resolve this action in its entirety. (Id. at 1-2.) Plaintiffs and their counsel have proposed the following disbursements from the settlement amount: 75% to minor Emelin ($243, 750) and 25% to the parents Blanca Rivera and Rogelio Bravo, collectively for their injuries ($81, 250), before fees and costs. (Doc. No. 46, at 4.) Minor Emelin had MediCal lien of $93, 489.05 that was negotiated down to $60, 961.77. (Doc. No. 52-2.) Plaintiffs' counsel recorded costs associated with this litigation of $31, 827. (Doc. No. 46, at 3.)

         The amended proposed order submitted by plaintiffs' counsel reflects that they are seeking an award of attorney's fees at 25 % ($81, 250) of the settlement sum. (Doc. No. 52.) This was confirmed at the hearing on the motion. The court agrees that the attorney's fees here are properly capped at 25%. See Brewington v. United States, No. CV-13-07672-DMG (CWx), 2015 WL 4511296, at *7 (C.D. Cal. July 24, 2015) (MICRA applies to medical malpractice cases in California ...

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