United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S PROPOSED FINDINGS AND
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR JUDGE
MATTER is before me on the parties' Joint Motion to
Approve Settlement [Doc. 100], filed on February 7, 2018. The
Honorable James O. Browning, United States District Judge,
has referred this case to me for analysis and a recommended
disposition. [Doc. 5]. The Court-appointed guardian ad
litem, Gabrielle Valdez, submitted her report on March
9, 2018, recommending approval of the settlement agreement.
[Doc. 102]. On March 15, 2018, I held a hearing on the
motion. Having considered the motion, the guardian ad
litem's report, the representations made during the
fairness hearing, the record, and the relevant law, and being
otherwise fully advised in the premises, I find the proposed
settlement to be fair, reasonable, and in Plaintiff's
best interest. I recommend that the motion be GRANTED.
proceeding pro se, sued various Defendants pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1983, alleging claims under the Fourth, Eighth,
and Fourteenth Amendments and seeking damages and injunctive
relief. [Docs. 1, 3, 9]. He alleges that officers entered the
residence where he was staying and injured him by use of
excessive force. He further alleges that, once detained at
the Curry County Detention Center, he was denied necessary
medical treatment. Namely, jail officials sent him to a
medical facility for examination of his injuries. A magnetic
resonance image showed a completely torn anterior cruciate
ligament and a “complete tear of the medial meniscus
posterior horn.” Plaintiff was referred to an
orthopedist for a surgical evaluation. However, Plaintiff
never saw an orthopedist or any other specialist, and he was
never evaluated for surgery. Instead, Plaintiff was treated
with ibuprofen, an elastic knee brace, a wheelchair, and a
recommended exercise regimen. He repeatedly requested to be
seen by a specialist for a surgical evaluation. Plaintiff
alleges that the denial of necessary medical care has left
him permanently disabled. See [Doc. 68] at 2-4;
[Doc. 102] at 4-7.
Plaintiff's claims were dismissed; only his Eighth
Amendment claims against Defendants Hillis and Lueras
survived summary judgment. The undersigned conducted a settlement
conference, but the parties did not reach a settlement
agreement. See [Doc. 85]. Eventually, Plaintiff
obtained counsel, see [Doc. 88], and the parties
continued settlement negotiations. On August 4, 2017,
Plaintiff, through counsel, moved for the appointment of Ms.
Valdez as guardian ad litem to represent
Plaintiff's interests. [Doc. 98]. The request was
precipitated by separate state criminal proceedings in Texas,
where Plaintiff's mental competence had been placed at
issue. Id. at 1. A court-ordered evaluation in those
proceedings “revealed that the Plaintiff may not be
competent and may not have the capacity to execute legal
documents, ” i.e., enter into a binding settlement
agreement. Id. Therefore, Plaintiff
requested appointment of a guardian ad litem to
represent his interests pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(c)(2).
Defendants did not oppose the request. Id. at 2.
Judge Browning granted the motion and appointed Ms. Valdez as
guardian ad litem on August 11, 2017. [Doc. 99].
reached a final agreement, the parties filed the instant
motion for approval of the settlement on February 7, 2018.
[Doc. 100]. The parties agreed to settle the case for $15,
000, with the total amount (minus $312 in costs) going to
Plaintiff. [Doc. 102] at 14-15. The money will be
deposited into his prisoner account. Id. at 15.
Court reviews proposed settlement agreements involving minor
children and incompetent persons to determine whether the
settlement is fair and in that person's best interest.
See Garrick v. Weaver, 888 F.2d 687, 693 (10th Cir.
1989) (Courts have a “general duty . . . to protect the
interests of [minors and incompetent persons] in cases before
the court.”); Shelton v. Sloan, 1999-NMCA-048,
¶ 41, 127 N.M. 92 (citing NMSA 1978, § 38-4-16)
(noting that New Mexico law “requir[es] judicial
approval of settlements on behalf of ‘incapacitated
persons'”); Garcia v. Middle Rio Grande
Conservancy Dist., 1983-NMCA-047, ¶ 28, 99 N.M.
802, overruled on other grounds by Montoya v. AKAL Sec.,
Inc., 1992-NMSC-056, 114 N.M. 354 (“The general
rule is that a next friend or guardian ad litem
acting for a minor may negotiate a settlement, but such
compromise is not binding on the [minor] in the absence of
determining whether the proposed settlement is fair,
reasonable, and in the minor or incompetent person's best
interest, the Court considers the following factors:
(1) whether the proposed settlement was fairly and honestly
(2) whether serious questions of law and fact exist, placing
the ultimate outcome of the litigation in doubt;
(3) whether the value of an immediate recovery outweighs the
mere possibility of future relief after protracted and
expensive litigation; and
(4) the judgment of the parties that the settlement is fair
Jones v. Nuclear Pharmacy, Inc., 741 F.2d 322, 324
(10th Cir. 1984) (discussing the factors for determining
whether a class action settlement is “fair,