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Lobaton v. City of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

May 26, 2017

LUIS JESUS LOBATON, an individual; HEDY JULCA, an individual; DIEGO STEVEN LOBATON, an individual; and “B.C., ” a minor, by and through his mother and guardian ad litem, Hedy Julca, Plaintiffs,
CITY OF SAN DIEGO, a municipal corporation; NATHAN PARGA, an individual; KELVIN LUJAN, an individual; SAM EULER, an individual; ALI BAKHSHI, an individual; and DOES 1 through 200, inclusive. Defendants.


          Hon. Jill L. Burkhardt United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is the ex parte petition of Hedy Julca, mother and court-appointed guardian ad litem of minor Plaintiff B.C., for approval of the compromise of B.C.'s disputed claim. (ECF No. 42.) This Report and Recommendation is submitted to United States District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 17.1 of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. For the reasons discussed below, the Court recommends that the District Court GRANT the Petition.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff B.C. is a minor appearing by and through his mother and court-appointed guardian ad litem Hedy Julca. (See ECF No. 8.) The operative complaint alleges that Plaintiff B.C. suffered serious emotional distress when several San Diego Police Officers forcefully entered the mobile-telephone store in which Plaintiff and his family were living and physically assaulted and injured Plaintiff's mother and her adult son, Luis Lobaton. (ECF No. 3 at 29-31.) Plaintiff, approximately three feet from the physical confrontation, witnessed the assault upon his mother and brother and their being led out of the store in handcuffs. (Id.) The incident occurred on July 29, 2014, and lasted approximately ninety seconds. (ECF No. 49 at 2.) Plaintiff was three years old at the time. (Id.)

         In the weeks that followed the incident, Plaintiff became more dependent on his mother and less verbally expressive. (Id. at 3.) He also expressed a fear of the police. (Id.) Because of these behavioral changes, Plaintiff's mother sought emotional counseling for Plaintiff. (Id.) In total, Plaintiff attended 27 one-hour counseling sessions over a period of ten months. (Id.) His counseling sessions concluded when his behavioral symptoms resolved and his counselor recommended no further treatment. (Id.) Plaintiff is now five years old, and he behaves and expresses himself at an age-appropriate level. (Id. at 3, 10.)

         Plaintiffs commenced the instant action on June 26, 2015. (ECF No. 1.) The parties reached a settlement agreement at a settlement conference before Magistrate Judge Louisa S Porter on December 8, 2016. (ECF No. 34.) On April 25, 2017, Plaintiff's guardian ad litem filed the instant Petition setting forth the terms of the settlement and the intended distribution of the settlement proceeds. (ECF No. 42.) At the request of the Court, on May 23, 2017, Plaintiff's guardian ad litem filed a supplemental brief in support of the Petition. (ECF No. 49.)

         II. Discussion

         This Court's Local Civil Rule 17.1 addresses settlements for minors and provides in pertinent part:

Order or Judgment Required.
No action by or on behalf of a minor or incompetent, or in which a minor or incompetent has an interest, will be settled, compromised, voluntarily discontinued, dismissed or terminated without court order or judgment. All settlements and compromises must be reviewed by a magistrate judge before any order of approval will issue. The parties may, with district judge approval consent to magistrate judge jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) for entry of an order approving the entire settlement or compromise.

CivLR 17.1(a).

         “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 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, 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)); see also Salmeron v. United States, 724 F.2d 1357, 1363 (9th Cir. 1983) (“[A] court must independently investigate and evaluate any compromise or settlement of a minor's claims to assure itself that the minor's interest are protected, even if the settlement has been recommended or negotiated by the minor's parent or guardian ad litem.”).

         The Ninth Circuit in Robidoux v. Rosengren established that district courts reviewing the settlement of a minor's claim 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.” 638 F.3d at 1181-82. They should also “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 1182 (citing Dacanay, 573 F.2d at 1078).

         Robidoux, however, expressly limited its holding to cases involving the settlement of a minor's federal claims, noting that it did “not express a view on the proper approach for a federal court to use when sitting in diversity and approving the settlement of a minor's state law claims.” Id. at 1179 n.2. Nevertheless, some district courts have found the Robidoux rule reasonable in the context of state law claims and have applied the rule to evaluate the propriety of a settlement of a minor's state law claims as well. Frary v. Cty. of Marin, No. 12-cv-03928-MEJ, 2015 WL 575818, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 10, 2015); see also Mitchell v. Riverstone Residential Grp., No. Civ. S-11-2202 LKK/CKD, 2013 WL 1690641, at *1 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 17, 2013) (collecting cases). Other district courts have ...

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