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Castro v. State

United States District Court, E.D. California

January 7, 2020

RODNEY CASTRO, Individually and as Co-Successors in Interest, et al., Plaintiffs,
STATE OF CALIFORNIA, et al., Defendant.


         The parents and children of plaintiffs' decedent Rodrick Roman Castro, as individuals and co-successors in interest, allege officers with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) at Deuel Vocational Institute failed to reasonably monitor and protect Rodrick from other inmates, resulting in his murder. The parent plaintiffs are Rodney Castro and Virginia Castro. The minor children are R.A.C, through guardian ad litem Irene Coronado; J. N.C., through guardian ad litem Erin Chavez; M.C., through guardian ad litem Claudia Silva; and D.R.M., through guardian ad litem Romie Martinez. Plaintiffs brought this action against the State of California, CDCR, Scott Kernan, Kimberly Seibel and CDCR Officer R. Adolfson for violations of various federal and state laws. D.R.M. later dismissed his claims. The parties have agreed to settle their claims. The minor plaintiffs now move for court approval of the agreements. The motions are unopposed. After hearing the motion and for the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS the motions.


         R.A.C., J. N.C. and M.C. are the minor children of Rodrick Roman Castro, referred to here as “Rodrick” to distinguish him from other family members. Second Am. Compl. (“SAC”) ¶¶ 4-6, ECF No. 26. Rodrick was a prisoner at Deuel Vocational Institute (“DVI”), a CDCR correctional facility located in Tracy, California. Id. ¶¶ 9, 27. Rodrick allegedly suffered from mental illness and disability that qualified him for disability medical and mental health services in the state prison system. Id. ¶ 28. The complaint alleges that when Rodrick was transferred from Salinas Valley State Prison to DVI, correctional officers and staff knew or should have known he was at risk of violence due to his cooperation in a criminal investigation. Id. ¶¶ 29-30. On October 23, 2017, CDCR Officer R. Adolfson and other correctional staff interviewed Rodrick about alleged drug sales by Rodrick's former cell-mate at Salinas Valley State Prison. Id. ¶ 32. Rodrick's cellmate, inmate Martinez, was present at the interview. Id. The following day, Martinez was escorted out of the cell, leaving the cell open and Rodrick alone inside. Within minutes, Rodrick was stabbed to death by other inmates. Id. ¶ 33.

         The complaint alleges CDCR failed to adopt and implement policies and practices to mitigate the risk to inmates who cooperate in criminal investigations. Id. ¶¶ 29, 40. The complaint further alleges CDCR officers had an obligation to monitor surveillance cameras that showed suspect inmates planning and orchestrating the attack the night of October 23, 2017, but failed to do so. Id. ¶¶ 34-38. Supervisory correctional officers failed to ensure their subordinates were properly performing their duties. Id. ¶¶ 44-49. Plaintiffs allege these supervisory failures constitute the denial of disability accommodations to Rodrick. Id. ¶ 51. They also allege the supervisory failures constitute deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id. ¶¶ 57-58.

         Rodrick's parents, Rodney and Virginia, and his minor children R.A.C., J. N.C. and D.R.M., through their respective guardians ad litem, brought suit on August 1, 2018, alleging two separate violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (deliberate indifference and supervisory liability), a violation of the ADA, a violation of the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act (Cal. Civ. Code section 52.1), failure of prison officials to provide medical care in violation of California Government Code section 845.6 and negligence. Compl., ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs amended their complaint, dropping the Bane Act claim. See SAC. Minor plaintiff D.R.M. stipulated to dismissal of all claims. Stip. to Dismiss, ECF No. 32. The remaining parties stipulated to the joinder of an additional minor plaintiff, M.C. Stip. to Joinder, ECF No. 46. Now, the parties represent that the case has settled and plaintiffs have filed this motion for approval of a minor's compromise.


         District courts have a duty to protect the interests of minor or incompetent litigants. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(c)(2) (requiring a district to “appoint a guardian ad litem-or issue another appropriate order-to protect a minor or incompetent person who is unrepresented in an action”). This special duty requires a district court to “conduct its own inquiry to determine whether the settlement serves the best interests of the minor.” Robidoux v. Rosengren, 638 F.3d 1177, 1181 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Dacanay v. Mendoza, 573 F.2d 1075, 1080 (9th Cir. 1978)); see also E.D. Cal. L. R. 202(b) (“No claim by or against a minor or incompetent person may be settled or compromised absent an order by the Court approving the settlement or compromise.”).

         The Ninth Circuit instructs district courts to “limit the scope of their review to the question whether the net amount distributed to each minor plaintiff in the settlement is fair and reasonable, in light of the facts of the case, the minor's specific claim, and recovery in similar cases.” Robidoux, 638 F.3d at 1181-82. This requires the court to “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. at 1182.


         The parties agreed to settle the claims of Rodney and Virginia Castro and R.A.C., J. N.C. and M.C. for a total of $1, 900, 000.00. Mot., Ex. A, ECF No. 52-2. The minors' portion of the settlement is $1, 500, 000.00. Id.


         R.A.C.'s portion of the settlement, before attorneys' fees, is $600, 000.00. Mot., Decl. of Alexis Galindo (“Galindo Decl.”) ¶ 11, ECF No. 52-1. The law firm of Curd, Galindo & Smith, LLP is requesting attorneys' fees of 25 percent. Id. After these fees are deducted, R.A.C. is due $450, 000.00. Mot., Ex. A at 2, ECF No. 52-2. The lump sum of $415, 000.00 will be annuitized through USAA Annuity Services Corporation, to be disbursed tax-free to R.A.C. between the ages of 18 and 30. Mot., Ex. B, ECF No. 52-3. The remaining $35, 000 will be distributed to his guardian ad litem, Irene Coronado, as custodian for R.A.C. under the California Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (“UTMA”). Galindo Decl. ¶ 17.

         Irene Coronado, R.A.C.'s mother, would use some of the $35, 000.00 custodial payment to pay for R.A.C.'s dental and orthodontic bills not covered by insurance. R.A.C. has been diagnosed with epilepsy; the settlement will also pay portions of his neurological medical bills not covered by insurance. Another portion of the settlement would be used for R.A.C. to go to summer basketball camp. Declaration of Irene Coronado (“Coronado Decl.”), Ex. F, ECF No. 52-7. The larger annuitized portion of the settlement is intended to provide funding for college, housing expenses, graduation gifts, funds for business development on college graduation, and eventually, funds for the purchase of a first home. Ex. B; Coronado Decl.

         J. ...

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