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H. D. v. Omni La Costa Resort & SPA, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. California

January 15, 2020

H.D., et al., Plaintiffs,


          Hon. Andrew G. Schopler United States Magistrate Judge

         Christopher DeRuyver, plaintiff and guardian ad litem for minor plaintiffs H.D., N.D., and Z.D., seeks an order approving a proposed settlement of the minors' claims against defendant. Because the settlement serves the minors' best interests, the Court recommends that the motion be granted.


         This suit arises from allegations of negligence on the part of defendant, a hotel in Carlsbad, California. While H.D. was seated in a high chair at defendant's Bistro 65 restaurant, an Omni employee placed a carafe of hot coffee on the table. (ECF No. 164, at 2.) The coffee spilled, resulting in burns to H.D.'s left fingers, torso, and upper thighs. (Id.)

         This case went to trial, and plaintiffs secured a total judgment of $6, 028, 400.92. (Id. at 4.) Defendant then appealed, and the parties reached a settlement while participating in the Ninth Circuit's mediation program. (Id.) The settlement agreement was provided to the Court, along with the total settlement amount, the amounts paid to the non-minor plaintiffs, and the amount paid to plaintiffs' attorney. The net settlement amount, after costs and fees, is $4, 041, 437.17. (Id. at 9.) H.D. will receive $3, 493, 583.61, N.D. $85, 147.82, and Z.D. $68, 948.97. (Id.) These amounts reflect the proportions of the overall settlement amount that were originally approved by a jury at trial. (See ECF No. 167, at 5.) Christopher DeRuyver has been appointed conservator regarding any proceeds from the settlement. (ECF No. 164, at 9.) He will invest those proceeds as ordered by the Washtenaw County, Michigan Probate Court, and that court will retain jurisdiction over the matter until each of the minors reaches the age of majority. (Id. at 8-9.)


         I. Review of Settlement

         Under this court's Local Rules, “[n]o action by or on behalf of a minor” may be settled “without court order or judgment.” S.D. Cal. Local R. 17.1(a). “All settlements and compromises must be reviewed by a magistrate judge before any order of approval will issue.” Id. A district court in this Circuit must consider “whether the net amount distributed to each minor plaintiff is fair and reasonable, in light of the facts of the case, the minor's specific claim, and recovery in similar cases.” Robidoux v. Rosengren, 638 F.3d 1177, 1182 (9th Cir. 2011).

         But the Ninth Circuit limited this holding to a minor's federal claims, and did “not express a view on the proper approach for a federal court to use when sitting in diversity and approving the settlement of a minor's state law claims.” Id. at 1179 n. 2. Because this case involves only state negligence claims, this Court “will continue to follow the practice of district courts in this Circuit and apply California law” to evaluate the settlement. Primerica Life Ins. Co. v. Cassie, No. CIV 2:12-1570 WBS GGH, 2013 WL 1705033, at *1 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 19, 2013).

         Regardless of whether the Ninth Circuit or California standard applies, this court finds the settlement and attorney's fees to be fair and in the minors' best interests.

         A. Settlement Amount

         California law requires a Court to approve the settlement of a claim involving a minor. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 372; Cal. Prob. Code §§ 3500, 3600, 3601. This is in keeping with the “special duty” of district courts in this Circuit to “safeguard the interests of litigants who are minors.” Robidoux v. Rosengren, 638 F.3d 1177, 1181 (9th Cir. 2011). In the settlement context, that duty requires the court to “conduct its own inquiry to determine whether the settlement serves the best interests of the minor.” Id. (citations omitted).

         Having reviewed the complaint and been privy to the parties' briefing and discussions at the Early Neutral Evaluation and Mandatory Settlement Conference, the Court is intimately familiar with this case's facts and legal issues. With that experience in mind, the Court recognizes that litigation is always uncertain and concludes that the proposed settlement is fair, reasonable, and in the minors' best interests.

         Moreover, the minors' recovery in this case is reasonable in light of those approved in similar cases. See, e.g., A. M. L., et al. v. Mirela Cernaianu, M.D., et al., No. LA CV12-06082 JAK (RZx), 2014 WL 12588992, at *2, 5 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 1, 2014) (approving a medical negligence settlement for $1, 161, 587.32 where the minor sustained permanent brain injuries during birth, ); Sykes v. Shea, et al., No. 16-2851 WBS GGH, 2018 WL 2335774, at *1-2 (E.D. Cal. May 23, 2018) (approving a negligence settlement for $87, 500, where the minor sustained injuries in a car crash); E. J. v. United States, No. ...

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