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Apodaca v. State, Adult Probation and Parole

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 19, 2018




         THIS 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.


         Plaintiff, 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.

         Most of Plaintiff's claims were dismissed; only his Eighth Amendment claims against Defendants Hillis and Lueras survived summary judgment.[2] 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, [3] 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.[4] 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].

         Having 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.[5] [Doc. 102] at 14-15. The money will be deposited into his prisoner account. Id. at 15.

         Legal Standard

         The 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 judicial approval.”).

         In 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 negotiated;
(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 and reasonable.

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, ...

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