Vasquez v. Doe

Decision Date06 April 2020
Docket NumberB296588
PartiesLEONOR VASQUEZ, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. DOE 1 et al., Defendants and Respondents.
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals

LEONOR VASQUEZ, Plaintiff and Appellant,
DOE 1 et al., Defendants and Respondents.



April 6, 2020


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

(Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. MC025512)

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Randolph A. Rodgers, Judge. Affirmed.

The Zalkin Law Firm and Devin M. Storey for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Derryberry & Associates, R. Steven Derryberry and Kimberly R. Rose-McCaslin for Defendants and Respondents.


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Leonor Vasquez filed this action against her church and two individual members of the church for sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence. Shortly before trial, one of the two individual defendants died. Vasquez subsequently reached a settlement with the other two defendants that included a dismissal of the action with prejudice.

The individual settling defendant and the estate of the non-settling defendant filed a motion asking the court to enforce the settlement and to dismiss the action with prejudice. The trial court granted the motion, and Vasquez appealed. Because in the settlement Vasquez agreed to dismiss the action, we affirm.


A. Vasquez Sues Her Church and Two of Its Members

According to the allegations in her complaint, Vasquez was born in 1982 and was raised in a "practicing Christian family." She began attending the Lancaster First Assembly of God in 1995. Michael and Sharon Walsh were also members of the church and served as youth group leaders.1 Sharon also worked at the church as a receptionist.

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Vasquez was active in the church. She attended services, participated in youth group and volunteer activities, was a member of the "puppet ministry," and went to camp. Vasquez also went on mission trips, which is where she first met Michael.

In late 1997 or early 1998 Vasquez's mother moved to Germany with her boyfriend. Because Vasquez did not get along with her mother's boyfriend, she decided to stay in California. When Sharon and Michael learned Vasquez needed a place to live, they invited her to live with them. Although Vasquez did not know them well, she accepted their offer because of their "good standing" in, and "representations of," the church.

Shortly after Vasquez moved in with the Walshes, Michael began touching her inappropriately. At first, Michael would only rub her legs, but he soon began scratching her back, rubbing her shoulders, holding her down and tickling her, fondling her breasts, and making sexual comments about her "breast size" and "breast development." Michael also measured her breasts and waist with a measuring tape, asked her about her sexual history, and asked whether she shaved her vaginal area. While on church-sponsored trips, Michael would rub her legs, upper thigh, and crotch. Vasquez alleged that, although the church and

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Sharon knew in 1999 about Michael's conduct, they did not report the abuse to law enforcement and that Michael continued to molest her.

In late 1999 or early 2000, Vasquez moved with the Walshes to Tehachapi. There, Michael continued to molest Vasquez and often touched her vagina and vaginal area under her clothing. Vasquez moved out in 2001. She and her boyfriend met with the lead pastor of the church, who told them Michael had admitted to sexually molesting Vasquez, but the church did not report the abuse to law enforcement.

In June 2015 Vasquez filed this action against the church, Michael, and Sharon.2 Vasquez alleged causes of action for negligence, negligent supervision and failure to warn, negligent hiring and retention, sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of Civil Code sections 51.7 and 52.4.

B. Vasquez Settles with Sharon and the Church

In 2017 the parties began discussing settlement. Michael died on July 6, 2017, two weeks before trial was scheduled to begin. After Michael died, the church's insurer agreed to indemnify Sharon as a former employee of the church and offered, on behalf of both the church and Sharon, "a greater settlement proposal to [Vasquez] than would have been possible if negotiated separately." Because Michael, who was never an employee of the church, had died, and no one had yet opened a probate matter for his estate, Michael was not included in the settlement.

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Vasquez, the church, and Sharon eventually reached an agreement. On August 25, 2017 counsel for the church sent a letter to counsel for Vasquez enclosing a draft settlement agreement that included a release and a proposed request for dismissal. Two provisions of the draft settlement agreement are particularly relevant to this appeal. First, paragraph 5 of the draft settlement agreement stated: "Concurrently with the execution of this Settlement Agreement and Release, counsel for the Plaintiff has delivered to counsel for Defendant an executed Dismissal with prejudice of the suit described in Recital A above. The Plaintiff has authorized [her] attorneys to execute this Dismissal on [her] behalf and hereby authorize counsel for Defendant to file said Dismissal with the Court and enter them as matters of record." Recital A, to which paragraph 5 referred, stated: "This Settlement Agreement and Release covers any and claims [sic] that were included or could have been included in any complaint filed in Case No. MC025512, Leonor Vasquez v. Defendant Doe 1, et al., Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles, Michael Antonovich Antelope Valley Courthouse." Recital B stated: "The Parties desire to enter into this Settlement Agreement and Release in order to provide for certain payments in full and discharge of all claims which are or might have been the subject of the aforesaid suit on the terms and conditions set forth herein."

The release was in paragraph 1 of the draft agreement. It stated: "In consideration of the payments called for herein, the Plaintiff completely releases and forever discharges Defendants . . . from any and all past, present or future claims, demands, obligations, actions, causes of action . . . . This release, on the part of the Plaintiff shall be a fully binding and complete

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settlement between the Plaintiff, Defendants, Insurer, and all other persons, firms and corporations whatsoever save only the executory provisions of this Settlement Agreement and Release." The draft settlement agreement also contained non-disparagement and confidentiality provisions.

The proposed request for dismissal stated it was a request for dismissal of the "[e]ntire action of all parties and all causes of action." In his letter accompanying the draft settlement agreement, counsel for the church said he would send a check for $250,000 as soon as he received the signed release and request for dismissal.

On August 31, 2017 counsel for Vasquez responded to counsel for the church's August 25, 2017 letter and stated he had some "concerns as to . . . some of the language therein." Concerned the language of the release in paragraph 1 "could be interpreted as releasing" Michael, counsel for Vasquez stated: "Repeatedly throughout the Agreement, terms are used vaguely regarding who is specifically [a] party to the Agreement. As [Michael's estate] is not, as of yet, party to the Agreement, Plaintiff has provid[ed] some clarifying language to ensure that the Agreement only applies to the 'Undersigned Parties.'" Counsel for Vasquez proposed, in "a 'red-lined' version of" the draft settlement agreement, to add to recital B the words "regarding and limited to the undersigned parties" after the language "full settlement and discharge of all claims." Counsel for Vasquez also proposed two corrections to typographical errors in recital A (including adding "all" between "any and" and "claims"), but he did not propose any changes to recital A, paragraph 5, or the request for dismissal. Counsel for Vasquez also made some minor changes to the non-disparagement clause

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and added to the confidentiality provision that "the Parties hereby acknowledge that no provision within this Agreement prevents the Parties from disclosing the underlying factual information related to the Lawsuit."

Counsel for Vasquez also wanted to make sure the release in paragraph 1 was limited to the three parties to the settlement agreement. Therefore, he proposed adding to paragraph 1 the language "the undersigned" after the phrase "the Plaintiff completely and forever discharges" and before "Defendants." Counsel for Vasquez also proposed adding language to exclude from the release "any Defendant and Insurer not party to the Agreement."

On October 27, 2017 the settling parties and their attorneys signed a revised settlement agreement that included counsel for Vasquez's revisions.3 Neither Michael nor a representative of his estate was a signatory to the settlement agreement.

C. The Trial Court Grants the Church's Motion for a Good Faith Settlement Determination

On December 14, 2017 the church filed a notice of settlement and application for a good faith settlement determination under Code of Civil Procedure section 877.6, subdivision (a)(2). The church stated that it had reached a settlement with Vasquez and that, "[p]ursuant to the settlement, plaintiff's claims against [the church] in the above-entitled action will be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to the confidential

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terms of the settlement agreement." Although the church did not attach a copy of the settlement agreement to the motion (because of the agreement's "confidential terms"), counsel for the church stated...

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