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T.L. v. Southern Kern Unified School District

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 15, 2019

T.L., by and through his guardian ad litem KEISHA LAYNE, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTHERN KERN UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS GRANTING APPROVAL OF THE COMPROMISE ON BEHALF OF MINOR PLAINTIFF T.L. (DOC. 37)

          JENNIFER L. THURSTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         In this action, T.L., a minor, by and through his guardian ad litem, Keisha Layne, claimed injuries as a result being forced out of his regular classroom and put on independent study for a few months. The plaintiff seeks the Court's approval for the settlement. (Doc. 37.) 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

         At all times relevant, T.L. was in general education fifth grade class at his home school. (Doc. 16 at 4.) T.L. had an individualized education program (IEP), which was supposed to help T.L. with his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other mental impairments. (Id. at 4-5.) On April 21, 2017, T.L. got into a physical altercation with another student just after school ended. (Id. at 5.) Southern Kern Unified School District (District) responded to the incident by suspending T.L. and recommending that he be expelled. (Id.) He was taken out of his regular classroom at his home school and put into an independent study program for only a fraction of the school day. (Id.) During this time, he did not have interaction with other school children. (Id. at 2.)

         T.L. contested the District's action by filing a complaint with the California Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) under IDEA and California's special education laws. (Id. at 5.) After a hearing, the OAH issued a decision in favor of T.L., finding that T.L.'s conduct was a manifestation of his disabilities. (Id. at 5-6.) The OAH's decision also found that the District's failure to follow T.L.'s IEP contributed to and helped cause the incident and determined that the District did not comply with IDEA requirements when making the decision to remove T.L. from his regular home school. (Id. at 6.)

         On April 24, 2019, the Court granted Plaintiff's unopposed motion for attorney's fees in the amount of $155, 925.00. (Doc. 34.) Subsequently, in response to the parties reporting that they have settled the claims remaining in the complaint, the Court order Plaintiff to file a motion for approval of minor's compromise. (Docs. 35, 36.) On June 24, 2019, the Plaintiff filed a motion for approval of minor's compromise. (Doc. 37.)

         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 T.L. sets forth the information required by Local Rule 202(b)(2). T.L. is a minor, who is now thirteen years old. (Doc. 37-3 at 1.) Keisha Layne is a single mother and the primary caretaker of T.L. (Id. at 1-2.) Plaintiff, through his guardian ad litem, asserts that the child's damages arise from the few months he was forced out of his regular classroom and put on independent study. (Doc. 37-1 at 2.)

         A. ...


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