Leyva et al v. Hollister School District et al

Filing 51

ORDER APPROVING 49 SETTLEMENT OF MINOR'S CLAIMS. Signed by Judge Beth Labson Freeman on 7/19/2017. (blflc2S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 7/19/2017)

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1 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 2 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 3 SAN JOSE DIVISION 4 5 R. LEYVA, ET AL., Case No. 15-cv-00838-BLF Plaintiffs, 6 ORDER APPROVING SETTLEMENT OF MINOR'S CLAIMS v. 7 8 HOLLISTER SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., 9 Defendants. 10 Plaintiffs R. Leyva and B.J., a minor, by and through his guardian ad litem, petition the United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 Court for an order approving the parties’ proposed settlement and of the minor’s compromise 13 included therein. Mot., ECF 49. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS the motion. 14 I. BACKGROUND1 Minor B.J., by and through his guardian ad litem R. Leyva2 (collectively “Plaintiffs”), filed 15 16 this action against Hollister School District (the “District”), Karen Lopes, Elaine Klauer, Gary L. 17 McIntire, Dennis Kurtz, Jennifer Adamson, and Jane Bambrick, alleging six causes of action: (1) 18 violations of B.J.’s constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 19 1983; (2) violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; 20 (3) violations of section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; (4) 21 negligent supervision; (5) negligent infliction of emotional distress; and (6) violations of the 22 Unruh Act. First Am. Compl. (“FAC”), ECF 16. B.J. is a fourteen year old student who has been diagnosed with autism. FAC ¶ 19. B.J. is 23 24 mostly non-verbal and cannot communicate his thoughts or needs. Id. ¶ 20. B.J. entered into the 25 seventh grade at Rancho San Justo Middle School, a middle school in the District, during the 26 27 28 1 This section is based on allegations made in the First Amended Complaint. The Court accepts these allegations as true for the purposes of ruling on this motion. 2 Leyva is also a party to this action. 1 2012–2013 school year. Id. ¶ 21. B.J. was placed in a classroom taught by Angela Draper, a 2 special education teacher. Id. Ms. Draper’s classroom was a special day class (“SDC”) for 3 children with moderate to severe disabilities. Id. ¶ 22. In October 2012, the District completed a 4 psycho-educational assessment of B.J. Id. ¶ 23. The assessment noted that B.J. was good at 5 writing and coloring, could write his first and last name, could fill in a number chart to 100, and 6 highlighted numerous other academic skills. Id. In the area of group instruction, it was noted that 7 B.J. could “actively” participate in group instruction for fifty minutes at a time, would participate 8 in sing-along in class, enjoyed looking at books during free time, and enjoyed reading instruction 9 when each student had his or her own book to follow along. Id. In the area of classroom routine, the assessment noted that B.J. had “no” difficulty following the classroom instruction or 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 transitioning from one activity to another. Id. In the area of self-help skills, the assessment noted 12 that B.J. could navigate the school campus without difficulty, could get his own snack, use 13 scissors to open a container, throw away the trash, and eat without assistance. Id. During the 14 2012–2013 school year, B.J. had few behavioral issues in the school setting, and those he had 15 could easily be addressed. Id. ¶ 24. 16 In August 2013, B.J. began eighth grade at the same school but was placed in a new 17 classroom. Id. ¶ 26. Near the beginning of the school year, B.J. was removed from his assigned 18 SDC every morning about half an hour after the start of the school day. Id. ¶ 27. Two aides then 19 escorted B.J. to a room known as the “pod room,” which adjoined his assigned classroom. Id. 20 B.J. was kept out of his assigned classroom for the remainder of the day. Id. While in the pod 21 room, B.J. was often confined to a small narrow space known as his “pod,” which the District had 22 created for him. Id. B.J. was the only student at the school that was placed in the pod room. Id. 23 The District staff assigned to work with B.J. in the “pod room” was not appropriately 24 trained. Id. ¶ 29. As such, B.J. was often restrained, forced into the pod as a means of 25 punishment, and subjected to physical and emotional abuse. Id. The physical abuse resulted in 26 deep scratching and bruising on B.J.’s neck and other parts of his body in addition to causing 27 severe emotional trauma and behavioral regression. Id. 28 On February 24, 2015, Plaintiffs initiated this lawsuit against the District and various 2 1 employees. ECF 1. After substantial discovery, the parties reached an agreement resolving the 2 case. Shaw Decl. ¶ 5, ECF 49. The agreement was approved by all governing boards on or about 3 June 26, 2017. Id. 4 II. LEGAL STANDARD 5 “District courts have a special duty, derived from Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c), to 6 safeguard the interests of litigants who are minors.” Robidoux v. Rosengren, 638 F.3d 1177, 1181 7 (9th Cir. 2011). “Rule 17(c) provides, in relevant part, that a district court ‘must appoint a 8 guardian ad litem—or issue another appropriate order—to protect a minor or incompetent person 9 who is unrepresented in an action.’” Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(c)). “In the context of 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 proposed settlements in suits involving minor plaintiffs, this special duty requires a district court to ‘conduct its own inquiry to determine whether the settlement serves the best interests of the minor.’” Id. (quoting Dacanay v. Mendoza, 573 F.2d 1075, 1080 (9th Cir. 1978)). In cases involving the settlement of a minor’s federal claims, a district court must consider 13 14 15 16 whether the proposed settlement is fair and reasonable as to each minor plaintiff. Id. at 1182. “[T]he district court should 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. 17 18 19 20 21 While the Robidoux Court expressly limited its holding to settlement of a minor’s federal claims, “district courts have found the Robidoux rule reasonable in the context of state law claims and have applied the rule to evaluate the propriety of a settlement of a minor’s state law claims as well.” Frary v. Cnty. of Marin, Case No. 12-cv-03928, 2015 WL 3776402, at *1 (N.D. Cal. June 16, 2015); see also Mitchell v. Riverstone Residential Grp., No. S-11-2202, 2013 WL 1680641, at 22 *1 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 17, 2013) (collecting cases). California law, which governs the state law 23 24 causes of action, also requires that a settlement for a minor be approved by the court. See Cal. Prob. Code § 3601; Cal. Fam. Code § 6602. 25 26 27 III. DISCUSSION Under the proposed settlement, the District will pay $399,000 to the Plaintiff’s attorney to be held in trust, and $139,691.36 of that amount will be retained by Plaintiff’s counsel for costs 28 3 1 and attorneys’ fees. Shaw Decl. ¶ 6. The $260,307.64 of the sum remaining after deduction of the 2 attorneys’ fees and costs will be deposited and held in a special needs trust account. Id. ¶ 7. B.J. 3 will be the beneficiary of the account and R. Leyva will be the custodian. Id. The fund will be 4 used at parental discretion for expenses related to future counseling, therapy, educational and 5 recreational purposes, and social enrichment. Id. In addition, pursuant to a previous settlement of 6 B.J.’s special education claims only, the District paid B.J. $100,000. Id. ¶ 12. In light of the facts of the case, the minor’s claims against the Defendants, and the 7 settlement of disputes regarding educational harm, the Court finds that the net amount to be 9 distributed is fair and reasonable. The terms achieve the goal that B.J. and his guardian ad litem 10 had for bringing the lawsuit. Accordingly, the Court APPROVES the settlement of B.J’s claims. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 8 IV. ORDER 12 Based on the foregoing, it is hereby ORDERED that: 13 1. 14 15 16 17 The Court APPROVES the settlement on behalf of the minor as set forth herein and in the parties’ Settlement Agreement and Release. 2. R. Leyva, as guardian ad litem, shall execute, within fifteen calendar days, the Release on behalf of Plaintiff B.J. 3. Rudderman & Knox shall use a portion of B.J.’s net proceeds held in trust to 18 establish a special needs trust on behalf of B.J. Once the trust is established, Rudderman & Knox 19 shall put B.J.’s remaining net proceeds in the special needs trust. 20 4. All future dates and deadline in this case are VACATED. 21 5. The parties shall file, within 60 days, a stipulation regarding dismissal of this case 22 23 or a written status report. IT IS SO ORDERED. 24 25 26 27 Dated: July 19, 2017 ______________________________________ BETH LABSON FREEMAN United States District Judge 28 4

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