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R. Leyva v. Hollister School District

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

July 19, 2017

R. LEYVA, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
HOLLISTER SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER APPROVING SETTLEMENT OF MINOR'S CLAIMS

          BETH LAB SON FREEMAN United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs R. Leyva and B.J., a minor, by and through his guardian ad litem, petition the Court for an order approving the parties' proposed settlement and of the minor's compromise included therein. Mot., ECF 49. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS the motion.

         I.BACKGROUND [1]

         Minor B.J., by and through his guardian ad litem R. Leyva[2] (collectively “Plaintiffs”), filed this action against Hollister School District (the “District”), Karen Lopes, Elaine Klauer, Gary L. McIntire, Dennis Kurtz, Jennifer Adamson, and Jane Bambrick, alleging six causes of action: (1) violations of B.J.'s constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; (3) violations of section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; (4) negligent supervision; (5) negligent infliction of emotional distress; and (6) violations of the Unruh Act. First Am. Compl. (“FAC”), ECF 16.

         B.J. is a fourteen year old student who has been diagnosed with autism. FAC ¶ 19. B.J. is mostly non-verbal and cannot communicate his thoughts or needs. Id. ¶ 20. B.J. entered into the seventh grade at Rancho San Justo Middle School, a middle school in the District, during the 2012-2013 school year. Id. ¶ 21. B.J. was placed in a classroom taught by Angela Draper, a special education teacher. Id. Ms. Draper's classroom was a special day class (“SDC”) for children with moderate to severe disabilities. Id. ¶ 22. In October 2012, the District completed a psycho-educational assessment of B.J. Id. ¶ 23. The assessment noted that B.J. was good at writing and coloring, could write his first and last name, could fill in a number chart to 100, and highlighted numerous other academic skills. Id. In the area of group instruction, it was noted that B.J. could “actively” participate in group instruction for fifty minutes at a time, would participate in sing-along in class, enjoyed looking at books during free time, and enjoyed reading instruction when each student had his or her own book to follow along. Id. In the area of classroom routine, the assessment noted that B.J. had “no” difficulty following the classroom instruction or transitioning from one activity to another. Id. In the area of self-help skills, the assessment noted that B.J. could navigate the school campus without difficulty, could get his own snack, use scissors to open a container, throw away the trash, and eat without assistance. Id. During the 2012-2013 school year, B.J. had few behavioral issues in the school setting, and those he had could easily be addressed. Id. ¶ 24.

         In August 2013, B.J. began eighth grade at the same school but was placed in a new classroom. Id. ¶ 26. Near the beginning of the school year, B.J. was removed from his assigned SDC every morning about half an hour after the start of the school day. Id. ¶ 27. Two aides then escorted B.J. to a room known as the “pod room, ” which adjoined his assigned classroom. Id. B.J. was kept out of his assigned classroom for the remainder of the day. Id. While in the pod room, B.J. was often confined to a small narrow space known as his “pod, ” which the District had created for him. Id. B.J. was the only student at the school that was placed in the pod room. Id.

         The District staff assigned to work with B.J. in the “pod room” was not appropriately trained. Id. ¶ 29. As such, B.J. was often restrained, forced into the pod as a means of punishment, and subjected to physical and emotional abuse. Id. The physical abuse resulted in deep scratching and bruising on B.J.'s neck and other parts of his body in addition to causing severe emotional trauma and behavioral regression. Id.

         On February 24, 2015, Plaintiffs initiated this lawsuit against the District and various employees. ECF 1. After substantial discovery, the parties reached an agreement resolving the case. Shaw Decl. ¶ 5, ECF 49. The agreement was approved by all governing boards on or about June 26, 2017. Id.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “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, in relevant 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.'” Id. (quoting 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)).

         In cases involving the settlement of a minor's federal claims, a district court must consider whether the proposed settlement is fair and reasonable as to each minor plaintiff. Id. at 1182. “[T]he district court should 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.

         While the Robidoux Court expressly limited its holding to settlement of a minor's federal claims, “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. Cnty. of Marin, Case No. 12-cv-03928, 2015 WL 3776402, at *1 (N.D. Cal. June 16, 2015); see also Mitchell v. Riverstone Residential Grp., No. S-11-2202, 2013 WL 1680641, at *1 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 17, 2013) (collecting cases). California law, which governs the state law causes of action, also requires that a settlement for a minor be approved by the court. See Cal. Prob. Code § 3601; Cal. Fam. Code § 6602.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Under the proposed settlement, the District will pay $399, 000 to the Plaintiff's attorney to be held in trust, and $139, 691.36 of that amount will be retained by Plaintiff's counsel for costs and attorneys' fees. Shaw Decl. ¶ 6. The $260, 307.64 of the sum remaining after deduction of the attorneys' fees and costs will be deposited and held in a special needs trust account. Id. ¶ 7. B.J. will be the beneficiary of the account and R. Leyva will be the custodian. Id. The fund will be used at parental discretion for expenses related to future counseling, therapy, educational and recreational purposes, ...


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