from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Oklahoma (D.C. No. 6:00-CV-00404-KEW)
W. Braly, Braly, Braly, Speed & Morris, PLLC, Ada,
Oklahoma, appearing for Appellants Barbara Lemmings and Oran
Elliott M. Davis, Trial Attorney, United States Department of
Justice, Washington D.C. (Susan Stidham Brandon, Assistant
United States Attorney, United States Attorney's Office,
Muskogee, OK, with him on the brief), appearing for Appellee
United States of America.
McHUGH, MURPHY, and CARSON, Circuit Judges.
CARSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Rule of Civil Procedure 17 controls when a district court
must appoint a guardian ad litem for a minor settling claims
with a defendant. The plain language of the Rule is clear: a
district court is not required to appoint a guardian ad litem
every time it considers the fairness of a settlement. Rather,
a district court need only appoint a guardian ad litem where
the minor is not otherwise represented by a general guardian
or other appropriate person. We thus reject Appellants
Barbara Lemmings and Oran Hurley, Jr.'s contention that
the rule requires the formal appointment of a guardian ad
litem whenever a parent and child settle their claims with a
defendant. We further reject the contention that an inherent
conflict of interest always exists where a minor is
represented by a parent who is a party to the same lawsuit as
Millard Lance Lemmings ("Lance") was born at a
government-operated hospital in Ada, Oklahoma. During his
birth, Lance suffered a brain injury. He cannot speak, walk,
or care for himself. Lance and his parents, suing as
"parents and next friends," filed this civil action
against Defendants on August 8, 2000. Plaintiffs alleged that
Defendants committed medical malpractice during Lance's
birth and sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
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.
Lance's parents represented him at the fairness hearing.
The district court did not appoint a guardian ad litem.
fairness hearing, Plaintiffs' counsel recited the terms
of the settlement into the record in detail. The parties
settled the matter for $5, 000, 000.00. Of that amount, the
United States paid $1, 350, 000.00 into a reversionary
medical trust ("Irrevocable Governmental Trust")
and the remaining two Defendants paid a combined $1, 000,
000.00 into a separate trust ("Non-Governmental
Trust"). The United States funded the Irrevocable
Governmental Trust with annuities. By its terms, the
Irrevocable Governmental Trust is a "secondary
payor" after Lance exhausts coverage from Medicare,
Medicaid, and any tribal or insurance benefits. In the event
of Lance's death, the Irrevocable Governmental Trust
benefits revert to the United States. The United States paid
an additional $2, 650, 000.00 to Plaintiffs outside of the
Irrevocable Governmental Trust. Of that amount,
Plaintiffs' attorneys received $1, 425, 000.00.
parents, Angela Kile and Jody Lemmings, testified at the
fairness hearing. Both Kile and Lemmings acknowledged that
they understood the terms of the settlement. Additionally,
they stated that they had cared for Lance since his birth and
confirmed their plan to care for him in the future. The court
sealed the fairness hearing transcript.
October 25, 2001, the district court approved the settlement.
At the same time, the parties executed a Stipulation for
Compromise Settlement and Release of Federal Tort Claims Act
Claims and Judgment Dismissing Action by Reason of
Settlement. The next day, the parties filed a Release of
Claims. On December 5, 2001, the case concluded with the
filing of a Stipulation of Dismissal with Prejudice. The
district court did not retain jurisdiction to further affect
the settlement or the trusts the settlement documents
fifteen years later, on June 16, 2017, Appellants filed a
motion 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.
December 2017, the district court issued an Order denying
Appellants' request. It held that no basis in law existed
to invade the finality of the stipulation of dismissal. The
district court therefore concluded it lacked jurisdiction to
consider Appellants' requested relief. As to
Appellants' requested access to the sealed transcript of
the fairness hearing, the district court denied the request.
The district court stated that because it lacked the
jurisdiction to grant the relief requested, intervention
would be futile. And, because the district court did not
allow Appellants to intervene, it concluded they remained