Kile v. United States

Plaintiff Millard Lance Lemmings (“Lance”) was born at a government-operated hospital in Ada, Oklahoma. During his birth, Lance suffered a brain injury. Lance and his parents, suing as “parents and next friends,” sued Defendants Comphealth, Inc. and Comphealth Medical Staffing, Inc. for medical malpractice under the Federal Tor Claims Act. The parties settled the case on September 28, 2001. Lance’s parents were simultaneously engaged in a state court proceeding regarding guardianship of Lance. On the morning of October 25, 2001, Lance’s parents filed an application for an order approving the agreed settlement, attorneys’ fees, and litigation costs in the state court action. The state district court appointed Lance’s parents as the guardians of Lance’s estate. Following that court order, Lance’s parents withdrew their state court application for an order approving the settlement. Later that day, Lance’s parents appeared before the federal district court for a fairness hearing regarding the settlement and represented him at the fairness hearing. The district court did not appoint a guardian ad litem. Appellants Barbara Lemmings and Oran Hurley, Jr. filed a motion fifteen years later seeking to intervene, in which they contended: (1) the parties presented materially inaccurate information to the district court in 2001 in order to obtain the district court’s approval; (2) the district court did not have jurisdiction to approve the settlement because it did not appoint a guardian ad litem to represent Lance; and (3) a conflict of interest existed between Lance and his parents which required the appointment of a guardian ad litem. Belatedly, Appellants further sought access to the 2001 sealed fairness hearing transcript. In the motion to intervene, Appellants asserted that Lance’s parents spent a large portion of the proceeds and abandoned him in 2011, leaving him in the care of his paternal grandmother, Appellant Barbara Lemmings. The state district court appointed her Lance’s guardian in January 2017. After Ms. Lemmings suffered a health issue, the state court appointed Appellant Oran Hurley, Jr. as co-guardian. Appellants sought to reopen the district court action, vacate the dismissal, intervene, and rewrite the terms of the Irrevocable Governmental Trust in order to access the proceeds contained in that trust. The United States objected. The Tenth Circuit rejected Appellants' contention that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17 required the formal appointment of a guardian ad litem, and rejected the contention that an inherent conflict of interest always existed where a minor was represented by a parent who was a party to the same lawsuit as the minor. View "Kile v. United States" on Justia Law