Lisa Ashley et al v. San Mateo-Foster City School District et al

Filing 66

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO APPROVE MINOR'S COMPROMISE. Signed by Judge Claudia Wilken on 9/22/16. (dtmS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 9/22/2016)

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1 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 2 FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 3 4 LISA ASHLEY, et al., 5 Plaintiffs, 6 7 8 United States District Court For the Northern District of California ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO APPROVE MINOR’S COMPROMISE v. SAN MATEO-FOSTER CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants. 9 10 No. C 15-863 CW ________________________________/ 11 Minor Plaintiff T.A.-G., through his guardian ad litem Lisa 12 Ashley, requests approval of a compromise of his claims against 13 San Mateo-Foster City School District (SMFCSD), Telmo Vasquez, 14 Sheila Spieller, Varina Williams, Donna Lewis, Cynthia Simms and 15 Does 1 through 30. Docket No. 64. The motion is unopposed, and 16 the Court finds the motion appropriate for determination without 17 oral argument. Civil L.R. 7–1(b). Having considered the papers 18 filed by Plaintiff, the Court GRANTS the motion. 19 BACKGROUND 20 T.A.-G., through his guardian ad litem Ashley and his parents 21 Ashley and Elie Goldstein, initiated this lawsuit on February 25, 22 2015. In the complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Telmo 23 Vasquez, while acting as T.A.-G.’s fourth grade teacher, 24 physically, psychologically and verbally abused T.A.-G. on 25 multiple occasions in late 2013 and early 2014. Plaintiffs allege 26 that Vasquez’ abuse was a result of T.A.-G.’s diagnosed Asperger’s 27 Syndrome. 28 Plaintiffs represent that T.A.-G. was diagnosed with 1 post-traumatic stress disorder subsequent to the alleged abuse, 2 for which he requires psychological therapy and medication, and 3 that his doctors have recommended he attend private school with 4 small class sizes. 5 SMFCSD officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the 6 Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and against SMFCSD for 7 violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 8 § 12131 et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 9 § 794. United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 Plaintiffs brought claims against Vasquez and On May 27, 2015, after SMFCSD agreed to waive its Eleventh 11 Amendment immunity, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint 12 incorporating state law claims for violation of civil rights, 13 battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, 14 negligent supervision, violation of mandatory reporting duty, 15 violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and discrimination in 16 violation of the education code. 17 Docket No. 14. In a mediation session on June 27, 2016, the parties reached 18 a settlement, conditional on approval by the SMFCSD school board 19 and SMFCSD’s Joint Powers Authority. 20 subsequently approved the settlement. 21 informed the Court that the Joint Powers Authority has made its 22 decision. 23 disapproval of the settlement will not affect its fairness or the 24 degree to which it is in T.A.-G.’s best interest, the Court need 25 not wait for the Joint Powers Authority’s decision before ruling 26 on the instant motion. 27 28 The school board The parties have not Because the Joint Powers Authority’s approval or The instant motion for approval of a minor’s compromise was filed on August 30, 2016. The papers represent that SMFCSD has 2 1 agreed to pay a total of $437,500 to Plaintiffs to settle their 2 claims against all Defendants. 3 twenty-five percent, will be paid to Plaintiffs’ attorneys as 4 fees, along with an additional $16,958.49 as costs for an expert 5 psychologist, mediation fees, filing, postage, copying, travel, 6 and legal research. 7 G.’s parents as costs for tuition at a private school, a special 8 education advocate, psychotherapy, and tutoring, and $3,000 will 9 be paid to a separate law firm as fees for drafting T.A.-G.’s United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 minor’s trust. 11 Of this amount, $109,375, or In addition, $43,540 will be paid to T.A.- will be $264,626.51. Thus, T.A.-G.’s net recovery under the settlement 12 13 LEGAL STANDARD The Ninth Circuit has stated, “District courts have a special 14 duty, derived from Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c), to 15 safeguard the interests of litigants who are minors.” 16 Rosengren, 638 F.3d 1177, 1181 (9th Cir. 2011). 17 of proposed settlements in suits involving minor plaintiffs, this 18 special duty requires a district court to ‘conduct its own inquiry 19 to determine whether the settlement serves the best interests of 20 the minor.’” 21 (9th Cir. 1978)). 22 Robidoux v. “In the context Id. (quoting Dacanay v. Mendoza, 573 F.2d 1075, 1080 The Ninth Circuit has directed that, in conducting this 23 inquiry in cases involving the settlement of a minor’s federal 24 claims, district courts should “limit the scope of their review to 25 the question whether the net amount distributed to each minor 26 plaintiff in the settlement is fair and reasonable, in light of 27 the facts of the case, the minor’s specific claim, and recovery in 28 similar cases,” and should “evaluate the fairness of each minor 3 1 plaintiff’s net recovery without regard to the proportion of the 2 total settlement value designated for adult co-plaintiffs or 3 plaintiffs’ counsel — whose interests the district court has no 4 special duty to safeguard.” 5 F.2d at 1078). 6 Id. at 1181-82 (citing Dacanay, 573 While the Ninth Circuit has not expressed a view as to the 7 proper approach for courts to use when approving settlement of a 8 minor’s claims arising under state law, see id. at 1179 n.2, and 9 T.A.-G. brought claims under both federal and state law, the Court United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 applies the same standard to settlement of all of his claims. 11 DISCUSSION 12 T.A.-G., through his guardian ad litem Ashley, has agreed to 13 settle his claims against Defendants in exchange for $264,626.51. 14 By providing T.A.-G. with this sum immediately, in the form of a 15 blocked account, the settlement will enable T.A.-G. to continue to 16 receive medical and psychological treatment and tutoring services, 17 and to attend private school. 18 risk inherent in further litigation and the harm T.A.-G. could 19 suffer through the potential stress of discovery procedures or 20 testifying at trial. In addition, settlement avoids the 21 In his motion, T.A.-G. identifies several factually similar 22 cases involving civil rights or tort claims based on the alleged 23 abuse of minor students with disabilities. 24 v. Fresno Unified Sch. Dist., No. 1:15-00673 WBS BAM, 2015 WL 25 9304862, (E.D. Cal.), the court approved a settlement of the minor 26 plaintiff’s claims, for net recovery to the minor plaintiff of 27 $303,000, in a case where her elementary school special-needs 28 teacher had placed her in a cage-like enclosure for extended 4 For example, in Brooks 1 periods without justification, resulting in post-traumatic stress 2 disorder. 3 No. 3:15-cv-04820-EDL (N.D. Cal. Aug. 4, 2016), the court approved 4 net recovery to the minor plaintiff of $85,779.99 in a case where 5 a behavioral therapist for a first-grader with autism allegedly 6 physically abused him while forcibly removing him from class. 7 T.A.-G.’s net recovery is similar to that of the minor plaintiff 8 in Brooks, who was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress 9 disorder, and it exceeds the net amount recovered by the minor United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 11 Similarly, in Gonzalez v. Antioch Unified School Dist., plaintiff in Gonzalez, who was also allegedly physically abused. Upon review of the papers submitted, the Court finds the net 12 recovery to T.A.-G. to be reasonable and the settlement to be in 13 the best interest of T.A.-G. 14 15 The Court grants Plaintiff’s motion. CONCLUSION Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff’s request for approval of a 16 minor’s compromise is GRANTED (Docket No. 64). 17 sign and e-file separately Plaintiffs’ proposed Order Granting 18 Plaintiff T.A.-G.’s Motion for Order Approving Settlement of Minor 19 Plaintiff T.A.-G.’s Claims. 20 conditional dismissal. 21 IT IS SO ORDERED. 22 23 The Court will The Clerk shall enter a ninety day Dated: September 22, 2016 CLAUDIA WILKEN United States District Judge 24 25 26 27 28 5

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