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Category: Contingency Fees / POF

10 Largest Class Action Attorney Fee Awards in U.S. History

June 20, 2021

A recent Bloomberg Law story by Roy Strom, “Meet the Professor Big Law Hires to Collect Nine-Figure Fees,” reports on attorney fee awards in the 10 largest class action recoveries in the U.S. have paid class counsel a range of fee when measured as a percentage of the settlement amount:

As stated in the article, there is no central authority to track class action settlements and attorney fee award data.  We at NALFA, would like to to be this authority.  As a non-profit group, we can worked with outside groups and individuals to promote and promulgate empirical research and data on attorney fee awards in a range of underlying litigation practice areas.

Class Counsel Seek $6.9M in Fees for ‘Trailblazing’ Litigation

June 18, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Rose Krebs, “Attys Seek $6.9M For ‘Trailblazing’ Work on Fresh Market Suit,” reports that Friedlander & Gorris and Robbins Geller are seeking roughly $6.9 million for what they say was "trailblazing" work as part of a proposed $27.5 million settlement to a Delaware Chancery Court suit over the $1.4 billion take-private sale of specialty grocery chain Fresh Market.  In a brief, Friedlander & Gorris PA and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP assert they should be awarded $6.875 million for attorney fees and expenses for brokering the $27.5 million payout for a proposed class of former Fresh Market stockholders. 

The fee award sought is 25 percent of the settlement fund, an amount the firms argued has been granted under other similar investor suit deals.  "Plaintiff and plaintiff's counsel were well-positioned to conclude that the settlement is fair and reasonable," the brief said. "Plaintiff's counsel fought for and reviewed 1.5 million pages of documents."  The firms said "the benefits of the $27.5 million settlement are substantial in comparison to the strength of the claims and the risks of further litigation."

Also, Friedlander & Gorris and Robbins Geller said the proposed settlement "resulted from a trailblazing litigation strategy" since the transaction at issue came in the wake of Corwin v. KKR Financial Holdings LLC .  That key 2015 Delaware Supreme Court ruling laid out when deference should be given to the business judgment of the board rather than enhanced court scrutiny being applied under the First State's cornerstone "Revlon" standard.

The state Supreme Court's landmark 1986 Revlon v. MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings decision established an intermediate deal-review standard between deference to director business judgment and the more plaintiff-friendly "entire fairness" assessment, which requires a close look at the fairness of the process and transaction price.  In their brief, the firms said they "conceived a novel litigation plan" by obtaining company records under Section 220 of Delaware's General Corporation Law "to plead around Corwin" and defeat a defense under Corwin that deference be given to the board's business judgment.

Eleventh Circuit Upholds Fee Award in Chinese Drywall MDL

June 10, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Carolina Bolado, “11th Circ. Upholds Fee Award in Chinese Drywall MDL,” reports that the Eleventh Circuit ruled that court-appointed class counsel in the defective Chinese drywall multidistrict litigation could receive 45% of the total fees paid to attorneys who negotiated settlements for 497 Florida plaintiffs because their work on the common case helped lead to the individual recoveries.  The appeals court said U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke did not abuse her discretion when she awarded class counsel $5.8 million of the more than $40 million paid by Taishan Gypsum Co. Ltd. to end claims over shoddy drywall imported from China.

The class counsel includes firms Colson Hicks Eidson, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, Morgan & Morgan, Herman Herman & Katz LLC and Seeger Weiss LLP.  The Eleventh Circuit said that although the attorneys for the 497 plaintiffs had worked hard to get the deal, their work "did not exist in a vacuum."

"They benefited from the decade of foundational work that class counsel exerted in this groundbreaking MDL, which involved evasive defendants in China, complex jurisdictional challenges requiring two trips to the Fifth Circuit, decertification attempts and liability determinations," the appeals court said.  "That class counsel has otherwise been compensated for this work does not prevent them from continuing to reap the rewards of their efforts."  The 497 plaintiffs were part of 1,734 Florida cases remanded in 2018 from the MDL in Louisiana to Judge Cooke in the Southern District of Florida for further proceedings.

Following the settlement with the 497 plaintiffs, class counsel said that much of their foundational work was used to secure the deals, entitling them to 20% of the total settlement.  After a global settlement was approved in January 2020 between Taishan and the remaining class members, the class counsel amended their award request to 60% of the attorney fees paid out to the individual plaintiffs, according to the opinion.  In May 2020, Judge Cooke awarded them a 45% cut.

The counsel for the individual plaintiffs appealed the decision, arguing that common benefit fees are only appropriate when there is a common fund from which to award them.  In this case, there is no common fund or judicial supervision of a fund, they said.  They also argued that class counsel have already been highly compensated for their common benefit work by the MDL court.

But the Eleventh Circuit said that particularly in complex litigation, courts have broad managerial power and discretion to award fees.  "The district court had control over the funds pursuant to the agreement of the parties to litigate common benefit fees in the SDFL and the actions taken by the court after the settlement agreement was first filed," the appeals court said.  "Awarding a portion of these fees to class counsel was therefore within the district court's power."  The appeals court added that preventing appointed counsel from recovering fees when their work leads to settlements down the road would make it more difficult for courts to find competent lawyers to take on that work.

Jimmy Faircloth, who represents the attorneys who worked on the individual settlements, told Law360 the ruling conflicts with Eleventh Circuit precedent by allowing contractual attorney fees to be used as a fund for purposes of the common benefit doctrine.  "[The ruling] allows MDL authority to reach even deeper into the jurisdiction of a transferor court following a remand," Faircloth said.  "This creates a slippery slope with negative consequences for the class action device."

Patrick Montoya, who represents the class counsel, said he was pleased the Eleventh Circuit affirmed Judge Cooke's "well-founded opinion recognizing class counsel's efforts in this decade-long, hard-fought case."  "The settlement obtained by class counsel was an unprecedented result against Chinese companies and the first of its kind in the United States," Montoya said.  "Judge Cooke and the Eleventh Circuit prevented a group of splinter lawyers from doing an end-around and unfairly benefitting from the class counsel's monumental efforts and the excellent results obtained for class members by class counsel."

NJ Class Counsel Earn $2.5M in Fees for $16.3M MTBE MDL Deal

June 4, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Morgan Connley, “Attys For NJ Nab $2.5M Fee Award for MTBE MDL Deal” reports that a New York federal judge has granted almost $2.5 million in fees for attorneys who helped secure more than $16.3 million in settlements to resolve claims that a TotalEnergies unit and others contributed to gasoline additive contamination in New Jersey drinking water.

U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick greenlighted the fee award, finding special counsel for New Jersey's attorney general earned a 15% cut of the $16.3 million they helped recover in litigation targeting Getty Property Corp. and Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA Inc.  Attorneys from Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP, Miller and Axline PC, the Law Offices of John K. Dema PC and Berger Montague shepherded the deals to resolve New Jersey's claims that the two companies polluted the Garden State's waters with methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, a gasoline additive.

Judge Broderick signed off on one consent order in December that saw Getty paying $13.5 million and another in January that arranged for the $1.5 million payment by Total. In separate litigation overseen by U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson, another company agreed in December to pay $1.35 million.  Neither company admitted guilt or liability in connection with the deal, according to the settlement.

New Jersey initially filed suit against Total, Getty Property — formerly Getty Petroleum Marketing Inc. — and others in state court in June 2007, but the case moved to New Jersey federal court and eventually ended up in New York multidistrict litigation.  The defendants New Jersey targeted included MTBE manufacturers, oil refiners and major-brand marketers of gasoline that contained MTBE.  Since the litigation landed on Judge Broderick's docket, the judge has approved multiple rounds of multimillion-dollar settlements resolving gasoline additive contamination claims.

In 2017, Judge Broderick signed off on a $39 million settlement that ended New Jersey's suit accusing ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66 of polluting the state's waters with MTBE.  Two years prior, Coastal Eagle Point Oil Co. and El Paso Corp. agreed to pay $20 million to New Jersey to exit the litigation.  Also in 2015, the state unveiled a $2.15 million settlement with Switzerland-based oil trader Vitol, as well as a separate deal in the MTBE litigation with parties tied to the Lyondell Chemical Co. bankruptcy.

Those agreements are part of a broader, steady series of settlements in the multidistrict litigation, which involves pollution from coast to coast. In January 2019, Judge Broderick gave his blessing to BP subsidiaries paying $14 million and Chevron agreeing to pay $11 million to resolve claims made by the Orange County Water District in California over sites allegedly impacted by MTBE.

$9.3M Fee Award in $30.2M Lens Price-Fixing MDL Settlement

June 1, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Dave Simpson, “$30.2M Deal, $9.3M Fee Award Greenlit in Lens Price-Fix MDL,” reports that a Florida federal judge signed off on a $30.2 million settlement to resolve claims against ABB Optical Group in sprawling price-fixing litigation and also granted $9.3 million in attorney fees plus $1 million for future anticipated claims costs.  U.S. District Judge Harvey E. Schlesinger greenlit the fee bid, which equals one-third of the settlement fund after payment of $500,000 for court-approved notice costs, $1 million in anticipated claims administration costs and about $750,000 in expenses.

"The court has considered the applicable case law and finds that awarding the requested attorneys' fees is fair and reasonable and just compensation for the work done and risks taken in this litigation and is well within the range of reasonableness under the factors established by the Eleventh Circuit," the judge said.

ABB Optical Group LLC, a contact lens distributor, was one of several large companies in the optical industry roped into the multidistrict litigation, which was consolidated in Central Florida.  The plaintiffs and the company signaled to the court Aug. 31 that they had reached a deal, although details were not disclosed at the time.  The court gave preliminary approval on Nov. 13, and the plaintiffs and their counsel filed initial motions for final approval of the deal and for the attorneys fee award in late February, according to court records.

The MDL — originally composed of over 100 cases — has been percolating for the last half-decade in the federal court in Jacksonville, where cases from Kansas and California were consolidated with those from the Sunshine State in 2015.  Suits began cropping up after optometrists and ophthalmologists raised concerns about discount lenses, accusing the four companies — vision care manufacturers Bausch & Lomb, Johnson & Johnson and Alcon and distributor ABB — of engaging in a conspiracy to coordinate their pricing.

In a December 2018 order, U.S. District Judge Schlesinger created a "In a December 2018 order, U.S. District Judge Schlesinger created a horizontal class of U.S. residents who made certain retail purchases of disposable lenses made by Alcon, Johnson & Johnson or Bausch & Lomb from June 1, 2013, to Dec. 4, 2018, for their own use and not resale.

The judge also created vertical manufacturer-based subclasses for consumers who bought, from June 1, 2013, to the date of class certification, lenses that one of those three companies made, applying the same conditions regarding prices.  The buyers had said in April that the lack of objections to their fee bid "evidences the reasonableness of lead counsel's fee request."