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Class Win $73M in Attorney Fees in Milk Price-Fixing Action

April 28, 2020 | Posted in : Fee Award, Fee Award Factors, Fee Request, Practice Area: Class Action / Mass Tort / MDL

A recent Law 360 story by Khorri Atkinson, “Customers Win $73.3M in Atty Fees for Milk Price-Fixing Row,” reports that an Illinois federal judge has granted $73.3 million in attorney fees to consumers who notched a $220 million settlement approved last December to end their price-fixing allegations in a class action against milk producers.  Chief U.S. District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel approved the award for service rendered by appointed co-lead counsel Barrett Law Group PA, NastLaw LLC and Roberts Law Firm and other class attorneys.  The class counsel will also receive more than $5 million in reimbursement for litigation costs, the order said.

"Among the factors co-lead counsel should consider are the consistency, quantum, duration, and intensity of the fee applicants' commitment to the litigation, participation and leadership in the various common benefit contributions performed, and the timing the common benefit work was performed," the order said.

Class representatives First Impressions Salon Inc., Roy Matson, Kinney Drugs — the retail pharmacy division of KPH Healthcare Services Inc. — and Piggly Wiggly Midwest LLC will each receive $25,000, according to the order, for services including reviewing pleadings, responding to discovery requests and sitting for depositions.

The approval came after a squabble over a plaintiff's objection to the judge's preliminary approval in February, arguing in a one-page filing that the attorneys don't deserve "a payment of that stature."  "Considering this case is ultimately for the class members and I would find it extremely difficult to comprehend that a group of lawyers as a whole would even come close to using this amount of resources, even with over exaggerated prices for each service," plaintiff Matthew Robbins wrote.

He added, "The only outcome from such a high payment is each member gaining no real financial reimbursement and the lawyer firms all obtain large bonuses."  But Judge Rosenstengel dismissed Robbins' contention, saying, "Without proof that Robbins does in fact have standing to object, he lacks standing in this matter."  The judge wrote that Robbins has not complied with a court's order, which required him to affirm whether he's a class member and intended to appear at the final fairness hearing on the award.  Robbins did not appear at the hearing, the order said.

The order came after roughly seven years of litigation in the antitrust case against the National Milk Producers Federation.  Trial was set for October but a successful mediation eventually led to a settlement.  The class includes companies and individuals who purchased butter and cheese from December 2008 through July 2013.  The suit alleges that a now-canceled program to slaughter milk cows operated by a dairy industry coalition known as the Cooperative Working Together, run by the milk producers federation, suppressed the supply of raw milk, butter and cheese and, as a consequence, drove up prices on those products.