Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Legal Ethics
Northeastern Engineers Federal Credit Union v. Home Depot, Inc.
The parties appealed the district court's award of attorney's fees in a class action settlement brought by banks against Home Depot to recover resulting losses from a data breach.The Eleventh Circuit held that this was a contractual fee-shifting case, and the constructive common-fund doctrine did not apply. The court held that the district court erred by enhancing class counsel's lodestar based on risk; the district court did not abuse its discretion in compensating class counsel for time on the card-brand recovery process and for time spent finding and vetting class representatives; and there was no merit to Home Depot's contention that the district court's order did not allow for meaningful review. The court also held that the district court properly excluded attorney's fees from the class benefit, and the district court did not abuse its discretion by including the $14.5 million premiums in the class benefit. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Northeastern Engineers Federal Credit Union v. Home Depot, Inc." on Justia Law
P.J. v. Connecticut State Board of Education
Plaintiffs filed suit against the State in 1991 on behalf of a statewide class of children with intellectual disabilities for failing to comply with the requirement in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), that children with disabilities be educated in the "least restrictive environment" that meets their needs. After the parties negotiated a settlement, and near the end of the agreement's term, plaintiffs' counsel moved for additional attorneys' fees.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's award of attorneys' fees in part, holding that counsel was not barred from further attorneys' fees by the text of the settlement agreement or the definition of "prevailing party" contained in Buckhannon Board & Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598 (2001). However, the court reversed in part, holding that the district court misapplied the Delaware Valley standard in awarding several categories of work. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "P.J. v. Connecticut State Board of Education" on Justia Law
Ahearn v. Hyundai Motor America
The en banc court reviewed five consolidated appeals from the district court's orders and judgment certifying a nationwide settlement class, approving a settlement, and awarding attorney's fees in a multidistrict litigation brought against automakers regarding alleged misrepresentations about their vehicles' fuel economy. After class counsel and the settling parties negotiated a settlement that the district court approved, objectors challenged the certification order and fee awards.The en banc court affirmed and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that common issues predominated where the inclusion of used car purchasers in the class did not defeat predominance and variations in state law did not defeat predominance. The en banc court rejected challenges to the adequacy of the class and held that the notice to class members provided sufficient information; the claim forms were not overly burdensome; and there was no evidence of collusion between class counsel and the automakers. Finally, the en banc court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying fees. View "Ahearn v. Hyundai Motor America" on Justia Law
Fresno County Employees’ Retirement Assoc. v. Isaacson/Weaver Family Trust
The trust appealed the district court's grant of the law firm's request for a percentage fee awarded from the common settlement fund. The fee award was compensation for the law firm's representation of a class of plaintiffs that settled securities law claims against BioScript. The trust was a member of the class and objected to the fee award.The Second Circuit affirmed and held that, regardless of whether the claims settled here were initiated under fee‐shifting statutes, the common‐fund doctrine properly controls the district court's allocation of attorneys' fees from a common settlement fund. The court explained that class plaintiffs have received the benefit of counsel's representation and assumption of the risk that the lawsuit will not render a recovery, and thus the class may be fairly charged for counsel's assumption of contingent risk. Therefore, the court held that the district court was entitled to exercise its discretion in awarding either a percentage‐of‐the‐fund fee or a lodestar fee to class counsel. View "Fresno County Employees' Retirement Assoc. v. Isaacson/Weaver Family Trust" on Justia Law
In re Volkswagen "Clean Diesel" Marketing, Sales Practices, and Productions Liability Litigation
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of non-class counsel's motions for attorneys' fees arising from a class action settlement over claims regarding Volkswagen's use of defeat devices in certain vehicles. The panel held that law firms and lawyers that appealed in their own names had standing to challenge the fee order, because they suffered an injury (deprivation of attorneys' fees) that was caused by the conduct complained of (the fee order) and would be redressed by judicial relief.The panel also held that, because the underlying class action did not feature a traditional common fund from which attorneys' fees were procured, appellants could only have collected fees if they provided a substantial benefit to the class. In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that appellants did not and denying the fee motions on this basis. Finally, the panel rejected additional arguments by the Nagel Appellants and held that Appellant Feinman's challenge was moot. View "In re Volkswagen "Clean Diesel" Marketing, Sales Practices, and Productions Liability Litigation" on Justia Law
Lofton v. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage
Plaintiffs, home mortgage consultants, alleged they were misclassified as exempt employees by Wells Fargo. ILG, a law firm, represented approximately 600 Wells Fargo consultants alleging the same claim as the Lofton class in multiple lawsuits; the ILG suits were dismissed because the underlying claims were resolved in Lofton. In 2014, the court of appeal affirmed an order, requiring ILG to deposit into a court-supervised escrow account over $5 million of settlement proceeds ILG claimed as attorneys’ fees. ILG had concealed that settlement from the Lofton court and its class member clients. The TRO was predicated on an allegation that ILG’s clients were actually members of the class compensated by the $19 million “Lofton” settlement and that ILG was compensating itself out of the separate settlement without court approval. On remand, the trial court concluded ILG was not entitled to attorney’s fees. The monies on deposit with the court were directed to be paid to the class members who participated in the settlement. The court of appeal affirmed. Until the trial court did something about it, ILG had constructive possession of the entire $6 million settlement and control over its disbursement. ILG received due process. Nothing in this record demonstrates that ILG’s services in securing $750 for each of its 600 clients and facilitating their participation in Lofton were worth the $5.5 million it claimed in attorneys’ fees. View "Lofton v. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage" on Justia Law
Markow v. Southwest Airlines Co.
A class action stemming from Southwest’s decision to stop honoring drink vouchers for “business select” customers settled with the customers receiving replacement vouchers. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that 28 U.S.C. 1712, the Class Action Fairness Act, allowed the court to award class counsel (Siprut) attorney fees ($1,365,882) based on the lodestar method rather than the value of the redeemed vouchers. On remand, Siprut sought supplemental fees. For its work on the motion to amend the fee award and the prior appeal, The court called the number of hours requested “grossly excessive,” stating that counsel was trying to reach “some of the originally hoped‐for $3,000,000 that Southwest agreed not to oppose.” The court awarded $455,294 plus expenses, then vacated so that the class would receive notice. In exchange for dismissal of an appeal, by objector Markow, Siprut agreed to take $227,647 plus $3,529.68 in expenses; Southwest agreed to issue two additional vouchers for each one claimed. The court was notified that the number of vouchers claimed under the original settlement was less than one-third what the parties earlier indicated and approved the new settlement. Southwest distributed the vouchers and paid Siprut. Markow then unsuccessfully moved for $80,000 in attorney fees and an incentive award of $1,000 from Siprut’s fee award. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Unless the parties to a class action settlement, including objecting parties, expressly agree otherwise, settlement agreements should not be read to bar objectors from requesting fees for their efforts in adding value to a settlement. View "Markow v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law
Camp Drug Store, Inc. v. Cochran Wholesale Pharmaceutic, Inc.
Camp Drug Store filed a proposed class action, alleging that Cochran Wholesale had violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, by faxing unsolicited advertisements to class members. The parties entered into early mediation and reached a settlement. Cochran would “make up to $700,000.00 available” but was not required to create a separate account to hold the funds or to deposit them with the court. Each class member could submit a claim for $125; if the value of the claims exceeded the total available funds, each timely claim would be subject to a pro‐rata reduction. Any funds that were not claimed by class members were to be kept by Cochran. Each representative plaintiff was entitled to an incentive award of $15,000, and class counsel was to be paid one-third of the Settlement Fund ($233,333.33). The total Cochran actually paid to claimants was $220,625.00. The court approved the settlement but reduced the proposed attorney fee to $73,468.13 and incentive awards to $1,000. Camp argued that the settlement created a common fund against which the reasonableness of the fee award should be assessed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting the “common fund” argument.. Given the early stage at which the litigation settled, the reductions in the fee and incentive awards were not an abuse of discretion. View "Camp Drug Store, Inc. v. Cochran Wholesale Pharmaceutic, Inc." on Justia Law
McCabe v. Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc.
In 2011-2012 a million people received phone calls asking them to take political surveys in exchange for a chance to go on a free cruise. Some recipients filed a class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, seeking damages from defendants who had not placed the calls but had directed them. The district court certified a class and later granted plaintiffs partial summary judgment. The parties settled. Plaintiffs agreed to release their claims against all defendants and their agents. Defendants agreed to pay into a fund between $56 million and $76 million, depending on the number of approved claims submitted. Out of the fund will come payments to the class, incentive awards to the named representatives, about $2 million in administrative expenses, and attorneys’ fees. The class will receive payments in two rounds. If some claimants do not cash the checks during the second round, remaining funds will go to “an appropriate cy pres recipient.” Over the objections of a class member, the court approved the settlement, estimating that each claimant will receive $400. Class counsel will receive 36% of the first $10 million, 30% of the next $10 million, 24% of the next $36 million, and 18% of any additional recovery. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the award of fees overcompensates class counsel and that the settlement’s approval was improper. View "McCabe v. Caribbean Cruise Line, Inc." on Justia Law
Collins v. PBGC
The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion to compel payment of attorneys' fees that they say should have been but were not paid as a result of PBGC doing too little to identify and make payments to class members. The court's de novo interpretation of the wrap-up agreement gave it no reason to question the district court's conclusion that PBGC fully performed notwithstanding class counsel's unsupported assertions to the contrary. The court also held that PBGC did not prevent class counsel's performance of the wrap-up agreement. In this case, the parties intended that the wrap-up would be complete within ten years. This ten year period was unambiguous and has expired. View "Collins v. PBGC" on Justia Law