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S.V. v. Delano Union Elementary School District

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 27, 2019

S.V., a minor, by and through her Guardian ad Litem, CLAUDIA VALENCIA, Plaintiff,
v.
DELANO UNION ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS GRANTING APPROVAL OF THE COMPROMISE ON BEHALF OF MINOR PLAINTIFF S.V. (DOC. 64)

          JENNIFER L. THURSTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In this action, S.V., a minor, by and through her guardian ad litem, Claudia Valencia, claimed that her fifth grade teacher, Michelle Pelayo, bullied her and humiliated her in front of the class. The plaintiff seeks the Court's approval for the settlement. (Doc. 64.) Because the Court finds the proposed settlement of the child's claims to be fair and reasonable, the Court recommends that the minor's compromise be approved.[1]

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Plaintiff, who is a student with an intellectual disability, was enrolled in Delano Union Elementary School District (“District”), participating in both special education as well as non-special education classes. (Doc. 34 at 6.) The complaint alleges that one of Plaintiff's teachers, Michelle Pelayo, “threat[ed], discriminate[d] [against], humiliate[d], and degrade[d] students.” Id. It is also alleged that other Defendants, including the District, Superintendent Rosalina Rivera, and Principal Anna Ruiz “knew or reasonably should have known that Defendant Pelayo had been, and/or was aggressive, discriminatory, threatening and/or abusive towards students, ” and that these Defendants were “deliberately indifferent and/or inadequately and improperly responded, failed to respond, control[], supervise[], monitor[], discipline[], warn and/or take adequate precautions” in connection with Pelayo's conduct. (Doc. 34 at 6-7.)

         This case was removed from the Superior Court for the County of Kern based on federal question jurisdiction. (Doc. 1 at 2.) Defendants then moved to dismiss the fifth cause of action's civil conspiracy claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California Code of Civil Procedure §377.30 (Doc. 7), and the Court granted the motion with leave to amend. (Doc. 17.) Plaintiff filed a first amended complaint on September 1, 2017 (Doc. 18), and Defendants again moved to dismiss the fifth cause of action's conspiracy claims. (Doc. 21.) The Court granted the motion without leave to amend because Plaintiff failed to include any additional factual allegations to support her civil conspiracy claims after the Court had already directed Plaintiff that the original factual allegations were insufficient to support the cause of action. (Doc. 28.) Additionally, the Court ordered the Plaintiff to show cause why newly added claims in the first amended complaint's fifth cause of action for “Violation of the Equal Protection and Excessive Force Clauses” of the Fourteenth Amendment should be permitted since Plaintiff added such claims to the first amended complaint without consent of opposing counsel or the Court, contrary to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 15. (Doc. 28 at 3-5.)

         Plaintiff responded to the order to show cause and requested leave to amend the complaint. (Doc. 29.) The Court granted Plaintiff leave to amend and Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint which amended the fifth cause of action to state § 1983 claims for “Unreasonable Seizure, Excessive Force and Equal Protection” violations under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Docs. 33, 34.)

         The Plaintiff asserted six causes of action in the second amended complaint: (1) breach of mandatory duty pursuant to California Government Code § 815.6; (2) violation of the Plaintiff's rights under the Ralph Civil Rights Act, California Government Code § 51.7 et. seq.; (3) violation of Plaintiff's rights under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, California Civil Code § 51 et. seq.; (4) negligence pursuant to California Government Code §§ 815.2, 815.6, and 820; (5) violation of the unreasonable seizure, excessive force and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1988; and (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress under California Law. (Doc. 34 at 2-3.) In response to Defendants' motion to dismiss the fifth cause of action in the second amended complaint, the Court denied the motion except as to supervisory defendants Rivera and Ruiz. (Doc. 43.)

         On May 14, 2019, Plaintiff filed a notice of settlement indicating that the parties reached a settlement after a mediation session held on April 11, 2018. (Doc. 62.) Accordingly, the Court ordered the parties to file a petition for approval of the minor's compromise. (Doc. 63.) On June 14, 2019, the plaintiff filed a petition for approval of the minor's compromise. (Doc. 64.)

         II. Settlement Approval Standards

         No settlement or compromise of “a claim by or against a minor or incompetent person” is effective unless it is approved by the Court. Local Rule 202(b). The purpose of requiring the Court's approval is to provide an additional level of oversight to ensure that the child's interests are protected. Toward this end, a party seeking approval of the settlement must disclose:

the age and sex of the minor, 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 . . . was determined, including such additional information as may be required to enable the Court to determine the fairness of the settlement or compromise, and, if a personal injury claim, the nature and extent of the injury with sufficient particularity to inform the Court whether the injury is temporary or permanent.

Local Rule 202(b)(2).

         The Ninth Circuit determined that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c) imposes on the Court the responsibility to safeguard the interests of child-litigants. Robidoux v. Rosengren, 638 F.3d 1177, 1181 (9th Cir. 2011). Thus, the Court is obligated to independently investigate the fairness of the settlement even where the parent has recommended it. Id., at 1181; see also Salmeron v. United States, 724 F.2d 1357, 1363 (9th Cir. 1983) (holding that “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”). Rather than focusing on the amount of fees to be awarded, the Court must evaluate whether the net amount to the child is fair and reasonable “without regard to the proportion of the total settlement value designated for adult co-plaintiffs or plaintiffs' counsel” and “in light of the facts of the case, the minor's specific claim, and recovery in similar cases.” Robidoux, 638 F.3d at 1181-1182.

         III. ...


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