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Category: Class Fee Objector

Class Counsel Earn $80.6M in Fees in Apple iPhone Slowdown Settlement

March 20, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Mike Curley, “Attys Get $80.6M in Apple IPhone Slowdown Settlement,” reports that a California federal judge greenlighted a settlement of up to $500 million for iPhone users who accused Apple of deliberately slowing down their devices with an update and granted class counsel $80.6 million in fees after objections from some class members, Apple and government entities that the initial request was too high.  In a pair of orders, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila first granted final approval to the settlement, which will see Apple pay out between $310 million and $500 million — which the judge called one of the largest class action settlements in the circuit — then turned to the divisive request for fees.

Those fees are to be awarded to Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP; Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP; the Law Offices of Andrew J. Brown; and the Brandi Law Firm.  Class counsel in the case had requested $87 million in fees, which prompted Apple to ask the court to cut it down by at least $7 million.  While Judge Davila praised the attorneys for their work on the case, including their assumption of the risks of taking it on contingency, the risks of continued litigation, and the substantial payout that class members are likely to receive, he said that other factors don't support increasing the total fees beyond the court's normal 25% benchmark.

In particular, the judge noted how a large settlement fund could support granting attorneys a higher percentage, but in this case, the high settlement fund is mostly the result of the large amount of class members — not the amount of work performed by the class counsel.  "Class counsel's work in litigating this case up to the point of reaching settlement would have been the same whether there were 10,000, 100,000, 1,000,000 or more devices at issue," the judge wrote.

For the purposes of the fee calculation, the judge decided it was most appropriate to go by the percentage-of-the-fund model, based on the $310 million minimum Apple will have to pay, rather than a lodestar model that would be used for a settlement based on the number of claims made, and the judge found that 26% of the $310 million — or $80.6 million — was appropriate.  He also granted $995,245 in expenses, finding that none of the objections to either the fees or the expenses warranted knocking the total down any further than that.

The settlement resolves dozens of consumer protection lawsuits that were filed in 2018 after Apple admitted to issuing software updates that slowed certain iPhones.  The suits allege that Apple designed its software updates to slow down some phone models, nudging consumers to buy newer iPhones.  Under the deal, Apple agreed to pay up to $500 million in total, depending on the amount of iPhone users to participate in the deal, according to court filings, with a minimum settlement fund of $310 million.  Class members would receive $25 each for their phones.  If the payouts, attorney fees and expenses don't add up to at least $310 million, class members will receive up to $500 apiece until that minimum settlement amount is reached.

Judge Slams $32M Wells Fargo Fee Request as Unreasonable

March 18, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Dorothy Atkins, “Wells Fargo Judge Slams $32M Atty Fee Bid As Unreasonable,” reports that a California federal judge said she'll preliminarily approve Wells Fargo's $95.7 million deal to resolve certified class claims that the bank stiffed thousands of mortgage consultants' wages, but told class counsel "nothing" about their $31.9 million attorney fees request "looks reasonable to me."  During a hearing held via Zoom, U.S. District Judge Beth Freeman asked the parties to make minor revisions to the settlement notice and said the proposed deal, which gives out roughly $11,500 per class member, is "very solid" for the class.

She took issue, however, with class counsel's proposed fee award, which asks for a third of the settlement, or $31.9 million, reflecting an hourly lodestar calculated with an 8.9 multiplier.  "Nothing about this looks reasonable to me," she said.  "And it appears to me it doesn't seem reasonable to you, because you reserve your right to appeal [the settlement's approval]. I have never seen that."  Judge Freeman said by reserving their right to appeal, the attorneys seem to expect to lose their fee bid and appear to plan to appeal unless she gives them everything they want.

Class counsel Joshua H. Haffner of Haffner Law PC noted that they haven't fully briefed their reasoning for their requested fee award yet, but he argued that the litigation has been hard fought for years, making it through motions for summary judgment and a trip to the Ninth Circuit.  He added that the lodestar is still in the range of what is acceptable, albeit the higher end.  She told the attorneys to be sure to cite cases in which class attorneys were awarded fees that reflected a lodestar with a multiplier greater than eight in their motion for attorney fees.  "I just about jumped out of my chair when I saw the 8.9 multiplier," she said, adding "I think you invite objectors."

The judge's comments came during a hearing on a motion to preliminarily approve a global $95.7 million settlement that would resolve meal and rest claims, as well as derivative wage and hour claims on behalf of a class of roughly 5,377 California home mortgage consultants employed by the bank between 2013 and 2019.  If approved, the deal would include $25 million that the San Francisco-based bank already paid in a consolidated case called Ibarra, plus another $70 million for follow on cases alleging the bank claws back hourly wages and vacation time from the consultants' earned sales commissions.  Wells Fargo has since discontinued the pay practices underlying the plaintiffs' claims in the cases, according to court documents.

Judge Freeman acknowledged that her concern about the requested fee award doesn't "hold us up" with the final approval process and class notice, and the settlement agreement itself doesn't need to go back to the bargaining table.  She did, however, question how class counsel plans to pay for their appeal if she approves the settlement with a lesser fee award.

Apple Challenges $87M Fee Request in iPhone Settlement

February 18, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Dorothy Atkins, “Apple, Ky. AG Rip Class Attys’ $87M Fee Bid in IPhone Deal,” reports that Apple and the Kentucky attorney general joined objectors in urging a California federal judge to reject class counsel's $87.7 million fee bid for cutting a $310 million deal resolving claims over slowed iPhones, slamming it for being millions above the benchmark and padded by unsupported rates.  During a three-hour hearing, Christopher Chorba of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, counsel for Apple, argued that awarding the fee request would set a "very bad precedent" because class counsel overlitigated the case and shouldn't be awarded for its conduct.

He also said it would result in a net reduction of between $19 and $20 for class members who would otherwise receive more than $100 per claim.  Chorba also argued that class counsel failed to go through the factors warranting its large fee request and that its lodestar calculation is unsupported by the billing submissions.  "We're not saying they shouldn't get any fees," Chorba said.  "The fees are just so outside the norm and so in excess of what would be appropriate."

If approved, the settlement would resolve dozens of consumer protection lawsuits that were filed in 2018 after Apple admitted to issuing software updates that slowed certain iPhones.  The suits allege that Apple designed its software updates to slow down some phone models, nudging consumers to buy newer iPhones.

In May, Apple reached a deal to settle the case for $500 million but objected to the plaintiffs' request for $87 million in attorney fees, asking the court to cut it down by at least $7 million.  Since the settlement was announced, dozens of people have objected, arguing that it doesn't do enough for class members and doles out too much to class attorneys.  In December, the federal government also made clear in a filing that it does not object to the proposed settlement itself but views the fee request as over the top.

During a hearing on the deal's final approval, class counsel Mark Molumphy of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP argued that the fee award is warranted because the case was exceptional and the risks were great, particularly since the plaintiffs' firms were working on a contingency basis.  He also noted that it's the "first and largest" settlement of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act claims at issue and that class counsel secured significant recovery that's nearly half of the potential $1 billion damages at issue.

Molumphy argued that a 28% fee award is supported by a lodestar cross-check for the three years of litigation, which included "World War III" discovery, 18 motions, including a motion to dismiss, and what he called Apple's unreasonable litigation demands.  "Frankly there was no roadmap.  There's not a case in which there was a government investigation or plea.  We were the leaders in this case," he said.  "We created a roadmap for others, including government investigation that followed us."

But Apple, the state of Kentucky and multiple class members objected to the size of the fee award and how class counsel proposed to calculate it.  Four attorneys representing objecting class members argued that the 3.5% claims rate was "puny" and the fee request should not be based on the initial $500 million deal because Apple is only paying $310 million due to the low claims rate.

The objectors also argued that a fee recovery of between 10% and 18% is more in line with case precedent, and they slammed class counsel for not submitting detailed billing.  They said the information class counsel provided appears to inflate the hourly rate of staff attorneys to $350 per hour when those attorneys likely received less than $50 per hour for their work and that it appeared to include work by dozens of attorneys who weren't authorized to bill for their time.

John Pentz, counsel for two objectors, pointed out that the alleged billing padding caused U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to "hit the roof" when she presided over Anthem's $115 million data breach deal, and noted that of the eight contract attorneys billed by Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP only one is listed on the firm's website.  He also said class counsel didn't explain why those who first filed lawsuits in state court were entitled to a cut of the fees.

Another attorney, Robert William Clore of Bandas Law Firm PC, argued on behalf of objector Alexis West that based on class counsel's own information, the aggregate potential damages at issue were over $4 billion, not $1 billion, and the $310 million represents only 5% of the potential $4 billion damages.

Philip R. Heleringer of the Office of the Kentucky Attorney General echoed other objectors' comments and emphasized that the court has a fiduciary duty to step in for absent class members in situations in which there is a "tension" between class counsel and class members.  Heleringer pointed out that in In re. Yahoo litigation, a court rejected a fee request that had a $10 million discrepancy between the lodestar and fee request, but class counsel's fee request in this case is five times larger than the lodestar.

Heleringer also argued that the settlement does not guarantee class members will receive $310 million.  He said the court should use base lodestar without a multiplier.  He added that there are no rare or exceptional circumstances here and that it's not enough that class counsel is going up against a well-heeled, well-resourced opponent to warrant a multiplier or that it's fighting on a contingent basis, particularly since 81 firms initially filed lawsuits over it.

Fee Dispute Looms Over $800M in Fees in Roundup MDL

February 5, 2021

A recent Law.com story by ‘Money Grab’: Objections Fly Over $800M in Fees for Lead Counsel in Roundup MDL”, reports that lawyers are pushing back against a request in the multidistrict litigation over Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide to turn over portions of their settlement amounts to provide lead counsel with what some estimate to be $800 million in attorney fees.  More than a dozen firms with thousands of lawsuits across the country, including Beasley Allen, The Lanier Law Firm and Gibbs Law Group, filed objections to a Jan. 11 motion that lead counsel filed asking for an 8.25% assessment on their Roundup settlements to pay for fees and expenses spent on the “common benefit” of all lawyers.

Many said the holdback for so-called common benefit fees equates to $800 million for lead counsel—what one attorney called a “colossal amount.”  “This court should not condone what is essentially nothing more than a money grab,” said Karen Barth Menzies, of Gibbs Law Group in Oakland, California, who filed an objection on behalf of her firm and two others.  Menzies insisted that the $800 million is on top of an estimated $2 billion in attorney fees that lead counsel made from contingency fee contracts associated with their own cases, which they settled last year for greater amounts than Monsanto is now offering.

In June, Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, announced it planned to settle about 125,000 Roundup claims for an estimated $10.9 billion.  The agreements were not part of a global settlement, however.  Lawyers have conducted their own negotiations, which have been confidential, and many cases remain unsettled.  Many lawyers objecting to the common benefit fee assessment argue that lead counsel settled their own cases for much more than everyone else.

“Now you have a defendant who’s offering people $45,000 for a cancer case,” said Hunter Shkolnik, of Napoli Shkolnik.  His New York firm filed an objection with appellate attorney Thomas Goldstein, of Goldstein & Russell in Washington, D.C.  “And there was no common benefit tax associated with those initial billions of dollars in cases that were settled,” Shkolnik said.  “They intentionally did not tax their own cases and put them into the fund.  You now have the next series of cases settling at much smaller amounts, and they’re seeking 8% common benefit.”

Lead counsel—Robin Greenwald, of Weitz & Luxenberg in New York; Michael Miller, of The Miller Firm in Orange, Virginia; and Aimee Wagstaff, of Andrus Wagstaff in Lakewood, Colorado —declined to comment about the objections.  They are due to respond Feb. 18.  In their request, lead counsel noted that the proposed holdback, of 8% in fees and 0.25% in expenses, includes an assessment on their own cases.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California, overseeing the Roundup multidistrict litigation, has his own questions—including whether a holdback is even necessary and, if so, how much it should be.  On Jan. 26, he asked lawyers to address four questions he had about the lead counsel’s request, including whether he could issue a holdback “without understanding how much of a premium co-lead counsel has already received on their settlements compared to the typical settlement.”  He also asked, “If a hold-back is truly warranted, why shouldn’t it be much lower than the 8% requested by co-lead counsel?”

The objections are the latest dispute among plaintiffs lawyers over common benefit fees, used to reimburse lead counsel in multidistrict litigation for costs and fees associated with discovery, trials and settlement.  Much of that work ends up benefiting lawyers not in leadership positions in the event they want to pursue trials or settlements of their own cases.

In their fee motion, however, lead counsel emphasized that six firms, including their own, did most of the work in the Roundup litigation, including in state courts.  Other firms, they noted, did not want to take the risks early on in the litigation.  “The world was watching this litigation; there can be no doubt that it was high risk for contingency fee lawyers, which explains why all the heavy lifting and lion’s share of litigation costs and risks were left to the MDL leadership,” they wrote.

A “tsunami of advertising” following their big wins, such as the Roundup verdicts in 2018 and 2019, led to thousands more cases filed by “law firms that hedged their bets and previously sat on the sidelines,” they wrote.  “That argument doesn’t at all describe us,” said Rhon Jones, of Beasley Allen in Montgomery, Alabama, who filed an objection to the holdback.  “We very much want to try our own cases and work our own cases, so I don’t see where any of that applies to Beasley Allen.”

Many of the objectors, like Beasley Allen, have cases in state courts that they say are not subject to multidistrict litigation—a response to one of Chhabria’s questions asking whether the holdback should apply to state court cases.  Jones estimated that as much as 90% of the cases over Roundup are in state courts. His own firm, he said, has only six cases in the multidistrict litigation, but 2,000 in state courts, mostly in Missouri.

Many firms argued that Chhabria, as a federal judge, did not have jurisdiction over state court cases, particularly where plaintiffs firms that did not sign any participation agreements with lead counsel.  “We’re not saying they didn’t do good work—there is going to be a common benefit order in the Roundup case,” said Shkolnik, who said he has 100 Roundup cases in the multidistrict litigation but several thousand lawsuits in state courts in Missouri.  “I just question whether or not the court has jurisdiction to apply to purely state court cases.”

Not only did some law firms claim they did not use discovery obtained in the multidistrict litigation, but they insisted that lead counsel purposely kept the experts to themselves and attempted to get other lawyers to refer cases to them.  Several firms submitted declarations, including Mikal Watts, of Watts Guerra in San Antonio, and W. Mark Lanier, of The Lanier Law Firm in Houston, stating they not request help from lead counsel in the multidistrict litigation.  Watts and Lanier both noted, however, that leadership also did not offer them “a trial packet, discovery documents, transcripts, or any other MDL work product,” according to their declarations.

In his objection, filed on behalf of her own firm and seven others, Arati Furness, of Dallas-based Fears Nachawati, wrote that lead counsel “refused to help any of the Roundup victims they do not represent,” and some even solicited referrals from other firms “to enhance their own settlements.”  “In some instances,” she wrote, lead counsel “attempted to push firms into settlements with threats that they were going to be left out in the cold with no experts, no depositions, and no trial package.”  Chhabria has scheduled a March 3 hearing on the fee dispute.

$1.2B Valeant Settlement Earns Robbins Geller $157M Fee Award

February 2, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Dean Seal “Final OK on $1.2B Valeant Deal Earns Robbins Geller $157M”, reports that a New Jersey federal judge gave final approval to a $1.2 billion settlement of an investor action against Valeant Pharmaceuticals, landing lead counsel Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP a hefty payday.  U.S. District Judge Michael A. Shipp overruled objections from two investor plaintiffs when he granted a special master's recommendation to approve the deal reached in December 2019 between investors and the pharmaceutical company that became known as Bausch Health Cos. Inc. in 2018.

The nearly five-year-old lawsuit claimed Valeant used a clandestine network of pharmacies to push high-priced drug prescriptions, sending the stock plummeting once price-gouging allegations surfaced.  Investor plaintiff Cathy Lochridge had lodged an objection to the 13% attorney award for Robbins Geller and local lead counsel Seeger Weiss LLP, arguing that the $157.3 million request was too high considering that the settlement "captures just 3% of class damages," but Judge Shipp said it was also the ninth-largest securities class action recovery ever.

"As Lochridge correctly notes, 'what is important is that the district court evaluate what class counsel actually did and how it benefited the class,'" the judge said.  "Here, lead counsel obtained a $1.21 billion all-cash recovery for the benefit of over 400,000 members."

The stock-drop litigation represents consolidated claims by investors who saw Valeant's stock price slide from more than $250 a share in 2015 to below $10 two years later.  The company has been fined by regulators and sued by investors who said it defrauded the market.  Investors claimed that Valeant had employees work under aliases for a company called Philidor Rx Services LLC that used deceptive practices to block generic alternatives from competing with Valeant's branded drugs.  Valeant allegedly duped insurers by changing prescription codes to ensure they were filled with Valeant-branded drugs and making claims for unrequested refills, investors said, and covered up the scheme by lying about the pharmacies' ownership and issuing a series of false statements to investors.

In December 2019, Bausch announced that it had agreed to resolve the case with a $1.21 billion settlement while admitting no liability and denying all wrongdoing.  Last June, a special master issued a report recommending final approval of the settlement, plan of allocation and attorney fees and expense reward, leading to objections from two plaintiffs.

The first, from brokerage firm Timber Hill LLC, objected to the settlement itself as well as the plan of allocation, arguing against the plan's imposition of an "arbitrary" 5% recovery cap on options investors while permitting common stock and debt investors to take the remaining 95%.  The cap demonstrated that options investors were not adequately represented in the settlement, Timber Hill said, asking that the cap be increased to around 9.5%.

Judge Shipp overruled the objection, saying that Timber Hill's expert had originally supported an options cap in the 5% range and that he found the plan to be "fair, reasonable and adequate."  The second objector, Lochridge, had asked that the attorney fee award be reduced to 6% of the settlement fund, or around $72.6 million, arguing that "this is the lowest ever return on class damages for a billion-dollar securities settlement."

Judge Shipp disagreed, saying Lochridge's low recovery argument was based on "new and inconsistent" analysis from Timber Hill's expert and speculation that Valeant could have agreed to a higher settlement amount despite its uncertain financial position.  The judge also found that the hefty settlement fund and low number of objectors and opt-outs weighed in favor of approving the award, as did the complexity and duration of the litigation and lead counsel's devotion of more than 75,000 hours to the case.