Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Legal Ethics
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
Goodman v. American Express Travel Related Services Co., Inc.
In 2007, Kaufman filed a class‐action lawsuit based on Amex’s sale of prepaid gift cards. The packaging declared the cards were “good all over.” Kaufman alleged that these cards were not worth their stated value and were not “good all over” because merchants were ill‐equipped to process “split‐tender” transactions when a holder attempted to purchase an item that cost more than the value remaining on his card. After 12 months Amex automatically charged a “monthly service fee” against card balances. Kaufman alleged Amex designed the program to make it difficult to exhaust the cards' balances. Following the denial of Amex’s motion to compel arbitration, settlement negotiations, and the entry of intervenors, the court certified the class for settlement purposes but denied approval of a settlement, citing the inadequacy of the proposed notice. Response to notices of a second proposed settlement was “abysmal.” A supplemental notice program provided notice to 70% of the class; the court again denied approval. After another round of notice, the court granted final approval in 2016, noting the small rate of opt‐outs and objectors. The court awarded $1,000,000 in fees and $40,000 in expenses to the Plaintiffs’ counsel, $250,000 to additional class counsel, and $700,000 in fees to intervenors' counsel: attorneys would receive $1,950,000. The court concluded the total value of the claims was $9.6 million, that, considering the number of claims and the value of supplemental programs, the total benefit to the class was $1.8 million, and that recovering $9.6 million was unlikely. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the court did not abuse its discretion, despite the settlement’s “issues.” View "Goodman v. American Express Travel Related Services Co., Inc." on Justia Law
Gascho v. Global Fitness Holdings, LLC
Plaintiffs, members of Global Fitness gyms, believed that Global misrepresented the terms of its gym memberships and sued as a class. The parties settled: Global agreed to pay $1.3 million to the class members, class counsel’s fees as ordered by the court, and the claims administrator’s fees and costs. The court approved the agreement over the objections of some class members and ordered its implementation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court denied certiorari. In the meantime, Global had sold all of its gyms and funneled $10.4 million of the proceeds to its managers through “tax distributions.” The payments Global owed to the class were in escrow under the terms of the settlement agreement, which made no similar provision for class counsel and the claims administrator. Days before its payment obligation under the agreement came due, Global notified the court it could not meet its remaining obligations. The court held Global Fitness and its managers in civil contempt. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Global had no legal obligation to conserve funds to pay class counsel and the claims administrator while the appeals were pending. Its obligation to pay became definite and specific only once the appeals were exhausted. The court erred in considering any of Global’s conduct from before that date and by holding the managers jointly and severally liable. View "Gascho v. Global Fitness Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law
Walker v. Johnson
Georgia Urology, P.A., and several of its member physicians filed objections to challenge a $124 million attorney fee awarded by the Jefferson Alabama Circuit Court to class counsel as part of the settlement of Johnson v. Caremark Rx, LLC ("the Caremark class action). After the trial court overruled their objections and its judgment approving the settlement became final, the objectors appealed the attorney fee to this Court. Caremark Rx bought MedPartners; MedPartners was the subject of dozens of securities-fraud lawsuits alleging that it had made false statements regarding its financial condition and anticipated future performance. Many of those lawsuits were eventually consolidated into a class action. In 1999, the MedPartners class action was settled for $56 million based on MedPartners' assertions that the negotiated settlement exhausted its available insurance coverage and that it possessed limited other assets it could use to pay a larger award or settlement. Post-settlement, however, it was revealed in unrelated litigation that MedPartners actually held an excess-insurance policy providing unlimited coverage during the period in which the alleged fraud had been committed. In 2003, the Caremark class action was initiated against MedPartners' corporate successor Caremark Rx, and its previous insurer asserting fraud and suppression claims based on the $56 million settlement agreed to in the MedPartners class action. The objectors appealed the fee award to the Alabama Supreme Court, arguing that they had been given insufficient opportunity to object to class counsel's requested attorney fee inasmuch as their objections were due before class counsel's attorney-fee application was filed, and that the attorney fee ultimately awarded was excessive. The Supreme Court vacated the order entered by the trial court awarding class counsel an attorney fee of $124 million. On remand, class counsel may file a new attorney-fee application, including more detailed information regarding the time expended in this case and how that time was spent. The objectors would then be given a reasonable opportunity to review that application and may, if they still have objections to class counsel's new application, file those objections with the trial court. After the trial court considers those objections and enters a new order making an award of attorney fees, any party with a grievance may file a new appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. View "Walker v. Johnson" on Justia Law
Hall v. Environmental Litigation Group, P.C.
Plaintiffs Mary Hall, as personal representative of the estate of Adolphus Hall, Sr., and Anaya McKinnon, as personal representative of the estate of Wanzy Lee Bowman appealed the dismissal of their class-action claims against Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. ("ELG"). Plaintiffs alleged ELG agreed to represent hundreds of clients who had been exposed to asbestos, including their respective decedents. Plaintiffs alleged ELG charged its clients an excessive fee above and beyond the amount listed in their respective contracts. The trial court dismissed their case with prejudice. The Alabama Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s judgment, reversed and remanded. On remand, the trial court appointed a special master, who again recommended dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims. The trial court held that the attorney-employment agreement was ambiguous and that this ambiguity was fatal to the plaintiffs' class-allegation claims. Thus, the trial court dismissed the class claims before the class-certification process began. At this point in the proceedings and under the standard of review, the Supreme Court saw no ambiguity in the attorney-employment agreements, negating the trial court's contrary conclusion as to the individualized inquiry necessary with regard to the plaintiffs' contract claims. The Court therefore reversed the trial court's order dismissing the plaintiffs' claims for class-based relief and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Hall v. Environmental Litigation Group, P.C." on Justia Law
Buren v. Doctor’s Associates Inc.
In 2013, an Australian teenager measured his Subway Footlong sandwich, which was 11 inches long. He photographed it alongside a tape measure and posted the photo on Facebook. It went viral. U.S. plaintiffs’ lawyers sued under state consumer-protection laws and sought class certification under FRCP 23. The suits were combined in a multidistrict litigation. Limited discovery established that Subway’s unbaked rolls are uniform; baked rolls rarely fall short of 12 inches. Minor variations occur due to natural variability in the baking process and cannot be prevented. No customer is shorted any food. With no compensable injury, the lawyers sought injunctive relief. Subway agreed to implement measures to ensure, to the extent practicable, that all Footlong sandwiches are at least 12 inches long. The parties agreed to cap class counsel's fees at $525,000. The court preliminarily approved the settlement. A class member and “professional objector to hollow class-action settlements,” argued that the settlement enriched only the lawyers and provided no meaningful benefits to the class. The judge certified the class and approved the settlement. The Seventh Circuit reversed. A class action that “seeks only worthless benefits for the class” and “yields [only] fees for class counsel” is “no better than a racket” and “should be dismissed out of hand.” View "Buren v. Doctor's Associates Inc." on Justia Law
Barnes v. Sears, Roebuck and Co.
In a class action against Sears concerning a defect in washing machines, the district court awarded class counsel $4.8 million, 1.75 times the fees counsel originally charged for their work on the case. The court reasoned that the case was unusually complex and had served the public interest and that the attorneys obtained an especially favorable settlement. The amount of damages that the class will receive has not yet been determined. The district court accepted Sears' estimate that the class members would receive no more than $900,000. The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that the “case wasn’t very complex—it was just about whether or not Sears had sold defective washing machines.” A district court should compare attorney fees to what is actually recovered by the class and presume that fees that exceed the recovery to the class are unreasonable. The presumption is not irrebuttable, but in this case, class counsel failed to prove that a reasonable fee would exceed $2.7 million. View "Barnes v. Sears, Roebuck and Co." on Justia Law
Castleberry v. USAA
The Eighth Circuit found no violation of Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 or abuse of the judicial process in this consolidated appeal involving parties in a putative action. The court held that counsel did not violate Rule 41 in stipulating to the dismissal of the action and counsel had at least a colorable legal argument that the district court’s approval was not needed under Rule 23(e) to voluntarily dismiss the claims of the putative class. Therefore, the district court abused its discretion in finding that counsel acted with an improper purpose under Rule 11 and abused the judicial process by stipulating to the dismissal of the federal action for the purpose of seeking a more favorable forum and avoiding an adverse decision. Consequently, the district court also abused its discretion in imposing sanctions upon plaintiffs' counsel for the purported violation. The court reversed the district court's orders and remanded for further proceedings. View "Castleberry v. USAA" on Justia Law
Huyer v. Buckley
This class action against Wells Fargo involved claims related to the bank's practice of automatically ordering and charging fees for property inspections when customers fell behind on their mortgage payments. On appeal, objectors challenged the district court's award of attorneys' fees in the amount of one-third of the total settlement fund in the class action settlement. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by basing its fee award on the total settlement fund, which included administrative costs. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in approving the total amount of attorneys' fees and the amount was reasonable because the district court did not err in concluding that the circumstances of this case justified a large award; under the percentage-of-the-benefit method, the award was in line with other awards in the Eighth Circuit; and the district court verified the reasonableness of its award by cross-checking it against the lodestar method. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Huyer v. Buckley" on Justia Law
Thut v. Life Time Fitness, Inc.
This appeal stems from a class action settlement where Life Time agreed to pay $10-15 million to settle claims that the company violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227. Objector challenges the district court's order awarding class counsel $2.8 million in attorney's fees and expenses. The court concluded that the district court's analysis was thorough, its findings were amply supported, and it did not abuse its significant discretion by electing to use the percentage-of-the-benefit method to calculate the fee award or by determining that an award of $2.8 million in attorney’s fees and expenses was reasonable. Furthermore, the district court did not abuse its discretion by including approximately $750,000 in fund administration costs as part of the "benefit" when calculating the percentage-of-the-benefit fee amount; nor did the district court abuse its discretion by allowing class counsel themselves to determine how to allocate the total $2.8 million attorney's fee award without further judicial oversight or approval. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Thut v. Life Time Fitness, Inc." on Justia Law