A recent Law 360 story by Kevin Penton, “9th Circ. Urged to OK $7M Atty Fees in ConAgra Label Fight” reports that the Ninth Circuit should affirm a California federal court's blessing of a settlement in which attorneys received nearly seven times what class members obtained in a dispute over ConAgra Foods Inc.'s labeling on oil products, as the deal conforms with legal precedent, the class has argued. The deal, in which the class received $993,919 while its attorneys received $6.85 million, was fair and reasonable, as the case involved more than eight years of litigation, ConAgra agreed to pay up more than $68 million depending on the participation of class members, and the lawyers received compensation for only a portion of the work they put in, according to the brief by the class.
Objector M. Todd Henderson fails to recognize that the U.S. Supreme Court determined in a 1986 case known as City of Riverside v. Rivera that attorney fees may not only be based on a percentage of what their clients receive, but also based on statutory fees, according to the brief. The class notes that Henderson's counsel at the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute Center for Class Action Fairness repeatedly challenge class action settlements, alluding that lawyers and defendants collude to strike deals in which attorneys get paid and companies get to walk away.
"Appellant is eager to continue a crusade that finds plaintiffs' lawyer misconduct anywhere that plaintiffs prevail," the reads. "No doubt there will be other windmills to tilt at, but this appeal concerns fees governed by specific state laws with statutory fee-shifting provisions, not appellant's 'high-level concerns.'" In the suit, the buyers alleged that ConAgra mislabeled its Wesson oil products as "100% natural" even though they contain genetically modified ingredients. U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow certified 11 classes in the case in 2015, and the settlement was given final approval in December, according to court records.
In the settlement, class members were eligible to receive 15 cents for up to 30 units of Wesson essential oils product they purchased without having to submit a proof of purchase, according to the brief. Class members who sought reimbursement for more than 30 units would need to submit a proof of purchase. Henderson told the Ninth Circuit in April that the Central District of California did not consider the deal's true value to the class when it granted the attorney fees — giving value to an injunction in the deal that is, in reality, worthless.