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Riha ex rel. I.C. v. Polk County School District

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

November 29, 2017

SUZANNE RIHA, ex rel., I.C., Plaintiff,
v.
POLK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          AMANDA ARNOLD SANSONE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This cause comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Unopposed Motion to Reopen Case, Petition for Approval of Settlement of a Minor's Claim, and Request for Hearing (Doc. 72).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 3, 2017, Plaintiff, I.C., through his mother, Suzanne Riha, brought suit against Defendants Polk County School District (“School District”), the School Board of Polk County (“School Board”), and Our Children's Academy (“OCA”).[1] (Doc. 1). I.C. is a minor child who attended OCA, a Florida charter school for special needs children. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that I.C. was left on a school bus that was parked approximately thirty miles from his school and home causing him injuries. (Id.).

         Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint (Docs. 22, 29), and Plaintiff filed a proposed order dismissing the Complaint with leave to amend (Doc. 28), which the Court construed as a motion for leave to amend. The Court granted leave to amend, and Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on May 31, 2017. (Docs. 30, 37).

         In response to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Defendants filed motions to dismiss (Doc. 43, 47), which the Court granted and dismissed the action without prejudice (Doc. 50). Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint on August 3, 2017, against the School Board and OCA. (Doc. 55). Defendants again filed Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. (Docs. 56, 58). On August 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Settlement as to the claims against OCA. (Doc. 67). Thereafter, the Court dismissed the action against OCA and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction as to the remaining state counts against the School Board. (Docs. 69, 71).

         On October 19, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant Unopposed Motion to Reopen Case, Petition for Approval of Settlement of a Minor's Claim, and Request for Hearing (Doc. 72). On October 20, 2017, the Honorable Virginia M. Hernandez Covington, United States District Judge, granted the motion to the extent that it requested the Court to direct the Clerk to reopen the case. (Doc. 73). Judge Covington also referred the request for approval of settlement of a minor's claim to the undersigned, for the issuance of a report and recommendation. (Id.).

         On November 6, 2017, the undersigned held a telephonic hearing on the motion. (Doc. 80). At the hearing, the undersigned reviewed the proposed Settlement Agreement (Doc. S-78)[2]with the parties and outlined issues and deficiencies within the document. As directed at the hearing, the parties incorporated the edits and changes discussed at the hearing, and forwarded the amended agreement to the undersigned to be placed under seal. The amended agreement has been placed under seal (Doc. S-82) and this matter is now ripe for review.

         II. ANALYSIS

         As an initial matter, the Court must determine whether the appointment of a guardian ad litem is necessary to protect I.C.'s interests. Then, the Court must assess whether the settlement agreement is in the best interests of I.C. The undersigned will address each issue in turn.

         A. Appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem

         “[T]he appointment of a guardian ad litem is a procedural question controlled by Rule 17(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Burke v. Smith, 252 F.3d 1260, 1264 (11th Cir. 2001) (quoting Roberts v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 256 F.2d 35, 38 (5th Cir. 1958)) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Rule 17(c)(1)(A) provides that a general guardian may bring suit on a minor's behalf “unless a conflict of interest exists between the representative and minor, a district court need not even consider the question [of] whether a guardian ad litem should be appointed.” Burke, 252 F.3d at 1264. When a minor is represented by a parent who is a party to the lawsuit and has the same interest as the child, there is generally no conflict of interest. Id.; see Jacksonv.Magical Cruise Co., Ltd., No. 6:14-CV-1997-ORL-18KRS, 2016 WL 2647689, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 22, 2016), report and recommendation adopted Jackson v. Magical Cruise Co., No. 6:14-CV-1997-ORL-18KRS, 2016 WL 2733422 (M.D. Fla. May 9, 2016).

         Here, Ms. Riha brought this action on I.C.'s behalf, as his mother. No facts have been presented that would suggest that Ms. Riha's interests conflict with I.C.'s interests or that that she is incapable of adequately representing I.C.'s interests.[3] On the contrary, both sides represented during the hearing that the Ms. Riha's interests are completely aligned with her son's interests. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that the Court need not appoint a guardian ad litem.

         B. Approval of the ...


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