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Lobaton v. City of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 16, 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 Plaintiff,
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. Defendant.


          Hon. Gonzalo P. Curiel United States District 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. Dkt. No. 42. United States Magistrate Judge Burkhardt filed a Report and Recommendation granting the petition. Dkt. No. 50. Based upon the Court's review of the moving papers, the law, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and GRANTS the Petition.


         On June 26, 2015, Plaintiffs, Hedy Julca (“Petitioner”), and her children, Luis Jesus Lobaton (“Luis”), Diego Steven Lobaton, and B.C. (“Plaintiff”), commenced the instant action. Dkt. No. 1. The complaint alleges that when Plaintiff was three years old, he witnessed several San Diego police officers break into his family's store and violently assault, handcuff, and forcibly take away his mother and brother Luis. Dkt. No. 3 at 30. As a result, Plaintiff B.C. suffered “serious emotional distress” and asserted a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim against Defendants. Id. at 29-31.

         In the weeks following the incident, Petitioner noticed that B.C. had become “more dependent on her, ” “less verbal, ” and fearful of the police. Dkt. No. 49 at 3. “Because of these behavioral changes, ” Petitioner took B.C. to counseling sessions approximately three times per month for ten months, totaling twenty-seven sessions. Id. The symptoms gradually resolved. Id. B.C. “is now five years old, attending school, and functioning normally for a boy his age.” Dkt. No. 42 at 3.

         On August 27, 2015, Magistrate Judge David H. Bartick appointed Petitioner as guardian ad litem for Plaintiff B.C. Dkt. No. 8. On December 8, 2016, the parties reached a settlement agreement at a settlement conference before Magistrate Judge Louisa S. Porter. Dkt. 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. Dkt. No. 42. Plaintiff B.C., through Petitioner, has agreed to settle his claim against Defendants for a total sum of $10, 000. Id. at 3. No costs or attorney's fees will be deducted from the total amount to be paid to B.C. Id. at 3; Dkt. No. 49 at 4. Petitioner has indicated that she will not use B.C.'s settlement earnings to pay for B.C.'s counseling expenses, which totaled $3, 180. Id.

         On May 23, 2017, Plaintiff's guardian ad litem filed a supplemental brief in support of the ex parte petition, at the Magistrate Judge's request. Dkt. No. 49. On May 26, 2017, Magistrate Judge Jill L. Burkhardt filed a Report and Recommendation granting the Petition for the compromise of the minor's disputed claim. Dkt. No. 50.


         Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(c) provides that a district court “must appoint a guardian ad litem-or issue another appropriate order to protect a minor . . . who is unrepresented in an action.” “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. (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 interests are protected, even if the settlement has been recommended or negotiated by the minor's parent or guardian ad litem”). Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 17.1, “[no] action by or on behalf of a minor . . . will be settled, compromised, voluntarily discontinued, dismissed or terminated without court order or judgment.”

         In considering the fairness of a minor's state law settlement, “federal courts generally require that claims by minors . . . be settled in accordance with applicable state law.” See O'Connell & Stevenson, California Practice Guide: Federal Civil Procedure Before Trial ¶ 15:138 (Cal. & 9th Cir. Eds. 2017). “California law requires court approval of the fairness and terms of the settlement.” Id. Under California state law, the court is to evaluate the reasonableness of the settlement and determine whether the compromise is in the best interest of the minor. See Espericueta v. Shewry, 164 Cal.App.4th 615, 617 (Cal.Ct.App. 2008); Anderson v. Latimer, 166 Cal.App.3d 667, 676 (Cal.Ct.App. 1985). Attorney fees to be paid for representing the minor must also be approved by the court. Cal. Fam. Code § 6602 (“A contract for attorney's fees for services in litigation, made by or on behalf of a minor, is void unless the contract is approved . . . by the court in which the litigation is pending . . . .”). The court has “broad power” to “authorize payment from the settlement-to say who and what will be paid from the minor's money-as well as direct certain individuals to pay it.” Goldberg v. Superior Court, 23 Cal.App.4th 1378, 1382 (Cal.Ct.App. 1994) (citing Cal. Prob. Code § 3601); see also Cal. Civ. Code P. § 372 (“Money or property to be paid or delivered pursuant to the order or judgment for the benefit of a minor . . . shall be paid and delivered as provided in Chapter 4 (commencing with Section 3600) of Part 8 of Division 4 of the Probate Code).

         The Ninth Circuit's decision in Robidoux set forth guidelines for determining the reasonableness of a minor's settlement. 638 F.3d at 1181-82. The Robidoux court, which limited its holding to federal law settlements, held that district courts are to “limit the scope of their review” of settlements involving minor plaintiffs “to the question of whether the net amount distributed to each minor plaintiff in the settlement is fair and reasonable, [1] in light of the facts of the case, [2] the minor's specific claim, and [3] recovery in similar cases.” 638 F.3d at 1179, 1181-82 (brackets added). Although this Court is exercising supplemental jurisdiction over a state law claim, the Court nonetheless finds Robidoux persuasive insofar as it provides a framework for evaluating the reasonableness and fairness of Plaintiff's settlement.[1]

         Considering the Petition and the supplemental brief filed in support of it, the Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Jill L. Burkhardt's conclusion that a settlement sum of $10, 000 is reasonable in light of the facts of the case, the cause of action brought, and recoveries by similarly situated plaintiffs.

         B.C. was not directly involved in the incident that led to the instant lawsuit against Defendants, but rather was a bystander. As a bystander, Plaintiff alleges that he suffered emotional injuries only, as a result of being present while his mother and brother had the altercation with police. Dkt. No. 42-1 at 3. After twenty-seven counseling sessions, Plaintiff has made a full psychological recovery. Dkt. No. 49 at 3. ...

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