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Carefoot v. County of Kern

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 11, 2019

PRISCILLA CAREFOOT, et al., Plaintiffs,
COUNTY OF KERN, et al., Defendants.



         In this action, J.H. by and through his guardian ad litem, Priscilla Carefoot, claimed injuries due to being removed from Carefoot's custody for almost two months. The Plaintiffs seek the Court's approval for the settlement. (Doc. 49.) 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.[2]

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         On or about February 9, 2014, J.H. was placed with Priscilla Carefoot in foster care. (Doc. 36 at 8.) Beginning in 2014, Carefoot sought to become J.H.'s adoptive parent. (Id. at 9.)

         In July 2015, Carefoot received a placement of three-month-old M.K. (Id. at 11-12.) M.K. “proved to be a medically fragile baby, and despite lack of any training in handling a medically fragile baby, Priscilla did her best to care for the infant.” (Doc. 49 at 2.) However, both M.K. and J.H were removed from Carefoot's custody on September 10, 2015. (Doc. 36 at 17-21.) J.H. was returned to Carefoot on November 4, 2015[3]. (Id. at 24.) About a year later, the adoption of J.H. was formally approved. (Id. at 26.)

         At the time that J.H. was removed from her care, Plaintiff claims that the child “had already bonded with plaintiff's family since he was seven months old.” (Doc. 49 at 2-3.) Plaintiffs claimed that “[a]s a result of the conduct of Defendants, Plaintiffs have suffered severe, pervasive, and ongoing emotional distress and psychological harm, which Defendants inflicted on Plaintiff intentionally and with reckless disregard for the same.” (Doc. 36 at 27.)

         On May 17, 2019, Plaintiff filed a notice of settlement indicating that the parties reached a settlement. (Doc. 46.) Accordingly, the Court ordered the parties to file a petition for approval of the minor's compromise. (Doc. 47.) On June 18, 2019, the Plaintiffs filed a petition for approval of the minor's compromise. (Doc. 48.) Plaintiffs filed a duplicative petition on June 21, 2019. (Doc. 49.) The Court entered an order denying Plaintiffs' first petition for approval of a minor's compromise as duplicative. (Doc. 50.)

         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. Discussion and Analysis

         The petition for approval of the settlement reached on behalf of the child J.H. sets forth the information required by Local Rule 202(b)(2). J.H. is a minor, presently six years old. (Doc. 49 at 4.) J.H. has lived with Plaintiff Priscilla Carefoot from February 9, 2014 until the present time, excluding the time he was removed from Carefoot, from September 10, 2015 through November 4, 2015. (Id.) J.H.'s adoption was finalized on October 7, 2016. (Id.) Plaintiff, through his guardian ad litem, ...

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