Judge: David B. Gelfound, Case: 22CHCV01109, Date: 2024-06-11 Tentative Ruling

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Case Number: 22CHCV01109    Hearing Date: June 11, 2024    Dept: F49

Dept. F49 

Date: 6/11/24

Case Name: Michael M. Abassia, v. Uber Technologies, Inc., Andre Anderson, and Samantha Rutledge, and Does 1 to 25

Case No.: 22CHCV01109

 

LOS ANGELES SUPERIOR COURT

NORTH VALLEY DISTRICT

DEPARTMENT F49

 

JUNE 11, 2024

 

APPLICATION FOR DETERMINATION OF GOOD FAITH SETTLEMENT (C.C.P. Section 877.6(a)(2)); MOTION TO CONTEST

Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. 22CHCV01109

 

Motion filed: 3/20/24

 

MOVING PARTY: Defendant/Cross-Defendant Samantha Rutledge (“Rutledge” or “Petitioner”) for the application; Defendant/Cross-Complainant Andre Anderson (“Anderson”) for the motion to contest

RESPONDING PARTY: Rutledge responding to the motion to contest

NOTICE: OK

 

RELIEF REQUESTED: Rutledge’s application seeks an order determining that the settlement entered into between her and Plaintiff, Michael M. Abassian (“Abassian” or “Plaintiff”), was made in good faith under Code of Civil Procedure section 877.6, subdivision (a)(2). Anderson’s motion seeks to contest the good faith settlement.

 

TENTATIVE RULING: The application is GRANTED. The motion to contest is DENIED.

 

BACKGROUND

 

This action arises from the alleged injuries and damages Plaintiff sustained from a motor vehicle accident that occurred on September 20, 2022 (the “Accident”), at the intersection of Balboa Avenue and Jolette Avenue, in Granada Hills, California. (Compl., MV-1).

 

On November 9, 2022, Plaintiff filed the Complaint against Uber Technologies, Inc. (“Uber”), Anderson, Rutledge, and Does 1 to 25, alleging Motor Vehicle liability. Subsequently, Uber and Anderson filed their respective Answers to the Complaint on December 27, 2022, and January 4, 2023, respectively. Rutledge filed her Answer to the Complaint on February 3, 2023.  

 

On January 4, 2023, Anderson filed his Cross-Complaint against Rutledge and Roes 1 through 10, alleging (1) comparative equitable indemnity; (2) contribution; (3) apportionment; and (4) declaratory relief. Subsequently, Rutledge filed her Answer to the Cross-Complaint on February 9, 2023.

 

On March 20, 2024, Rutledge filed the instant Application for Determination of Good Faith Settlement (the “Application”).

 

On April 15, 2024, Anderson filed a notice of motion and Motion to Contest the Good Faith Settlement (the “Motion”). Subsequently, Rutledge filed her Opposition to the Motion on May 28, 2024.

 

ANALYSIS

 

Code of Civil Procedure section 877.6, subdivision (a)(2) provides, in pertinent part, that “a settling party may give notice of settlement to all parties and to the court, together with an application for determination of good faith settlement and a proposed order. The application shall indicate the settling parties, and the basis, terms, and amount of the settlement. The notice, application, and proposed order shall be given by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by personal service. Proof of service shall be filed with the court. Within 25 days of the mailing of the notice, application, and proposed order, or within 20 days of personal service, a nonsettling party may file a notice of motion to contest the good faith of the settlement.”

 

The determination as to whether a settlement is in good faith is a matter left to the discretion of the trial court.” (Mattco Forge, Inc. v. Arthur Young & Co. (1995) 38 Cal.App.4th 1337, 1349 (Mattco).)

 

A.    Motion to Contest is Timely

 

The Court determines that Anderson’s Motion to Contest the Good Faith Settlement, filed on April 15, 2024, is timely, as it was filed within 25 days of the mailing of Rutledge’s Application, meeting the requirement of statutory period under Code of Civil Procedure section 877.6, subdivision (a)(2).

 

B.     Determination of Good Faith Settlement

 

The California Supreme Court held in Tech-Bilt that the trial court’s determination of good faith is based on “a number of factors,” including “[1] a rough approximation of plaintiffs’ total recovery and the settlor’s proportionate liability, [2] the amount paid in settlement, [3] the allocation of settlement proceeds among plaintiffs, . . . [4] a recognition that a settlor should pay less in settlement than he would if he were found liable after a trial. . . [5] the financial conditions and insurance policy limits of settling defendants, as well as [6] the existence of collusion, fraud, or tortious conduct aimed to injure the interests of nonsettling defendants.” ¿(Tech-Bilt, supra, at p. 499; see also Far West Financial Corp. v. D&S Co.¿(1988) 46 Cal.3d 796, 816, fn. 16 [expanding on Tech-Bilt factors].) “[W]hen the good faith nature of a settlement is disputed, it is incumbent upon the trial court to consider and weigh the Tech-Bilt factors.” (City of Grand Terrace v. Superior Court (1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 1251, 1261 (City of Grand Terrace).

 

i.                    Rough Proximation and Settling Defendant’s Proportionate Liability

 

 The first Tech–Bilt factor consists of two parts: a rough approximation of the plaintiff’s total recovery and the settling defendant’s proportionate liability. (Cahill v. San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (App. 4 Dist. 2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 939, 962 (Cahill).)

 

When approximating a plaintiff’s total recovery or the settling defendant’s proportionate liability, “judges should . . . not yearn for the unreal goal of mathematical certainty.¿ Because the application of section 877.6 requires an educated guess as to what may occur should the case go to trial, all that can be expected is an estimate, not a definitive conclusion.”¿ (North County Contractor’s Assn. v. Touchstone Ins. Services (1994) 27 Cal.App.4th 1085, 1090.)

 

Furthermore, the defendant's settlement figure must not be grossly disproportionate to what a reasonable person, at the time of the settlement, would estimate the settling defendant's liability to be. (Dole Food Co., Inc. v. Superior Court (2015) 242 Cal.App.4th 894, 909.)  After the court first makes a rough approximation of the total amount the plaintiff is likely to recover, the court then determines what, if any, the settling defendant’s proportionate share of that total recovery would be, and then determines whether the settlement amount was “within the ballpark” of reasonable settlement amounts based on the first two factors.” (Ibid.)

 

Here, Rutledge asserts that Plaintiff’s medical damages identified in discovery are no more than $8,958.20, which is the amount paid by insurance, in addition to Plaintiff’s other damages include $1,519 for treatment from CEP America and $8, 277.12 for claimed loss of earnings, totaling $18,754.32. (Appl., at p. 6, Hawkins Decl., ¶ 10.) Furthermore, Rutledge acknowledges that Plaintiff has made a claim for general damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress, however, which is difficult to quantitate at the time of the settlement. (Appl., at p. 6.)

 

Rutledge states that the settlement terms stipulate the total amount is $15,000.00 which represents the full amount of the insurance policy limit held by Rutledge which would provide coverage for the claims of Plaintiff. (Hawkins Decl., Ex. “10.”) Furthermore, Rutledge’s counsel attests that the Settlement and Release was made with the knowledge of the nature of injuries claimed to have been sustained by Plaintiff, Mr. Abassian. (Chang Decl., ¶ 7.)

 

Moreover, Rutledge did not admit any liability. (Appl., at p. 5, Hawkins Decl., Ex. “10.”) She argues that the video evidence establishes that the Defendant/Cross-Complainant Anderson is seen running the red light on the video and colliding with the side of her vehicle when she was making a left turn at the intersection. (Appl., at p. 7) Rutledge contends that Anderson violated Vehicle Code section 21453, subdivision (a) by failing to stop for a steady circular red signal and thus should be found liable for the occurrence of the Accident. (Ibid.)

 

In response, Anderson does not contest Rutledge’s allegation that he ran a red light; however, he argues that Rutledge was attempting to turn left on a red light before the collision. (Mot., at p. 3) Anderson posits that Rutledge is at least 50% liable for Plaintiff’s damages, as she violated Vehicle Code section 21801. (Mot., at pp. 7, 12.)

 

Upon reviewing the uncontested video evidence proffered by Rutledge, the Court finds that Rutledge’s vehicle had entered the intersection, and waited to make a left turn, during the yellow light. (Hawkins Decl., Ex. “8), whereas Anderson’s vehicle entered the intersection after Rutledge’s vehicle started to turn left and the signal light changed to red. (Ibid.)

 

In his Motion, Anderson quotes only an incomplete portion of Vehicle Code section 21801, which provides in its entirety:

 

(a) The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left or to complete a U-turn upon a highway, or to turn left into public or private property, or an alley, shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching from the opposite direction which are close enough to constitute a hazard at any time during the turning movement, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to the approaching vehicles until the left turn or U-turn can be made with reasonable safety.

 

(b) A driver having yielded as prescribed in subdivision (a), and having given a signal when and as required by this code, may turn left or complete a U-turn, and the drivers of vehicles approaching the intersection or the entrance to the property or alley from the opposite direction shall yield the right-of-way to the turning vehicle.”

 

            Anderson does not explain why he had the right-of-way under the Vehicle Code section 21801, subdivision (a) by admittedly running the red light. Nor does he explain why he should not adhere to subdivision (b) of the same code, which mandates that “drivers of the vehicles approaching the intersection ... from the opposite direction shall yield the right-of-way to the turning vehicle.”

 

            Based on the only factual information available before the Court and its own judicial experience, the Court rationally concludes that a reasonable person could find that, as compared to Rutledge’s liability, Anderson’s negligence was likely the primary, if not sole, cause of Plaintiff’s injuries, thereby reducing, if not eliminating, the potential judgment against Rutledge.

 

            Moreover, Anderson argues that the settlement amount of $15,000.00 is grossly disproportionate to the total damage that Plaintiff may recover – more than $265,000 based on Anderson’s calculation. (Mot., at p. 11.)

 

            As compared to Rutledge’s approximation of damage, the Court notes Anderson’s claim of Plaintiff’s total damages lacks support of competent evidence. Even if the Court accepts this estimate, as the Court has previously analyzed Rutledge’s liability to be minimal, if not zero, it does not affect the finding that the settlement amount is within the ballpark of her proportionate liability.  

 

            Therefore, the first Tech-Bilt factor supports the determination of good faith settlement.

           

ii.                  Settling Defendant’s Financial Condition

 

Here, Rutledge’s counsel attests that the settlement amount is the policy limit for third-party bodily injury of Rutledge’s GEICO Policy No. 4631-29-28-31, and she has no excess insurance policies or any additional funds to contribute to the Settlement and Release. (Chang Decl., ¶ 4.)

 

Based on this record and given the Court’s previous determination that the settlement amount is already in the ballpark of Rutledge’s proportionate liability, it concludes that the analysis of this factor is also in favor of the determination of the good faith settlement.

 

iii.                The Existence of Collusion, Fraud, or Tortious Conduct Aimed to Injure the Interests of Nonsettling Defendants

 

The “existence of collusion, fraud, or tortious conduct aimed to injure the interests of nonsettling defendants” is another relevant consideration. (Tech-Bilt, supra, 38 Cal.3d at 499.)

 

            Here, there is no evidence of “the existence of collusion, fraud, or tortious conduct aimed to injure the interests of” Anderson. There is also no argument made by Anderson in relation to this factor. Thus, the Court finds this Tech-Bilt factor supports the determination of good faith settlement.

 

            Based on the foregoing, the Court concludes that its analysis of Tech-Bilt factors supports the determination of good faith settlement, which provides Defendant/Cross-Defendant Rutledge immunity from liability to nonsettling Defendant/Cross-Complainant Anderson.

 

            Therefore, the Court GRANTS the Application for Determination of Good Faith Settlement.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Defendant/Cross-Defendant Samantha Rutledge’s Application for Determination of Good Faith Settlement is GRANTED.

 

Defendant/Cross-Complainant Andre Anderson’s Motion to Contest is DENIED.

 

Applicant to give notice.