April 20, 2017
A recent Law 360 story by Rick Archer, “US Airways Defends $122M Fee Bid in Sabre Antitrust Suit” reports that US Airways defended its request for $122 million in attorneys' fees for its $15 million victory against trip-planning giant Sabre Inc. in a suit over a contract giving booking access to all of the airline's seats, saying the fees are reasonable and in line with Sabre’s own legal costs.
Refuting Sabre’s argument that the fee request should be trimmed by nearly 90 percent because of unnecessary expenses, failure to get the full award sought and the dismissal of three-fourths of its claims, US Airways said the recommendation would make its fee award $40 million less than Sabre’s own reported defense costs.
“Although Sabre begrudgingly concedes that US Airways is entitled to some of what it incurred in this lengthy and aggressively defended case, reading Sabre’s opposition, one would think that Sabre — not US Airways — had won,” US Airways said.
The airline won a $5 million verdict, automatically tripled to $15 million, late last year in its case accusing Sabre — which controls 58 percent of the ticket distribution market — of restraining trade by forcing unfavorable terms on US Airways in a 2011 contract that required the airline to give Sabre access to all of its seats in order to reach the large cadre of travel agents that use the Sabre system.
US Airways has requested $122 million in attorneys’ fees and costs, arguing last month that the lengthy and complex nature of litigation justified fees that are more than eight times the amount of damages. Sabre had argued US Airways should receive only $13 million in fees, noting three of its four original claims were rejected and the award was less than US Airways had asked for, and claiming a number of specific decisions in the airline’s legal strategy had generated unnecessary fees.
US Airways replied that the claim it ultimately won on was always the focus of their efforts, saying two of the claims were dismissed at the beginning of the case when minimal work had been done and the third had required only a fraction of the work. “The Clayton Act does not require a plaintiff to prevail on all motions and claims in order to be entitled to a full recovery, particularly where it wins what it set out to achieve,” the airline said.
The airline said the reasonableness of the fees was justified by Sabre’s own $53 million in reported attorneys' fees, and argued this number was deceptively low because defense counsel Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP agreed to work at a discount in exchange for a success fee.
“Sabre refused our request to see Bartlit’s success-fee rate, but it appears to be nearly 50 percent based on the bonus Sabre paid for defeating declaratory relief,” it said. “Even a 30 percent bonus would have increased Sabre’s fees to roughly $70 million had it, not US Airways, won. That approximates US Airways’ roughly $85 million in attorneys’ fees.”
The case is US Airways Inc. v. Sabre Holdings Corp. et al., case number 1:11-cv-02725, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.