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Category: Fee Award Data

Seventh Circuit Tosses $11M Attorney Fee Award

May 20, 2022

A recent Law 360 story by Hailey Konnath, “Seventh Circ. Throws Out $11M Fee Award For Bernstein Litowitz” reports that the Seventh Circuit vacated an $11 million fee award for Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP's work on a $45 million settlement between waste disposal company Stericycle and its shareholders, finding that the district court "did not give sufficient weight" to points raised in a class member's objection.  The three-judge panel said the Illinois federal court overseeing the case should've more seriously considered evidence of related fee agreements, all the work that Bernstein Litowitz inherited from earlier litigation against Stericycle and the early stage at which the settlement was reached.

"The cumulative effect of these issues leads us to conclude that the district court's analysis did not sufficiently 'reflect the market-based approach for determining fee awards that is required by our precedent,'" the Seventh Circuit said.  The panel added, "We vacate the fee award and remand for a fresh determination more in line with what an ex ante agreement would have produced."

Objector Mark Petri appealed a 25% cut that Bernstein Litowitz got from representing investors claiming that Stericycle falsely inflated its financial results through fraudulent pricing.  In particular, Petri argued that the attorney fees were potentially inflated by a pay-to-play scheme and the case never proceeded past the motion-to-dismiss stage.

In the underlying case, lead plaintiffs Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi and the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System had pointed to briefing in a study conducted by Nera Economic Consulting.  According to that study, for securities class action cases that settled between 2014 and 2018 in amounts ranging from $25 million to $100 million, the median attorney fee award was 25%, like the share awarded to Bernstein Litowitz.

Bernstein Litowitz asked the court to approve its $11 million fee request in June 2019, and the court gave its blessing in May 2020.  But the Seventh Circuit said that the district court's analysis was incomplete.  Notably, the court didn't address a 2016 retention agreement between the firm and the Mississippi attorney general, under which Bernstein Litowitz was authorized to represent the Mississippi fund and seek a percentage of the recovery achieved for the class as compensation.  That percentage, however, was supposed to be limited to the percentage corresponding to the fund's estimated individual recovery, the panel said.

At oral argument, Bernstein Litowitz had said that the sliding scale structure outlined in that agreement only applies to the amount recovered by the fund itself, not to the total amount recovered by the class.  The Seventh Circuit said that interpretation is "improbable, arbitrary, unreasonable and not consistent with a class representative's fiduciary duty to class members."

Additionally, the district court's assessment of the risk of non-payment also didn't give sufficient weight to prior litigation involving Stericycle, litigation that substantially reduced the risk of non-payment, the panel said.  The court had found that the risk of non-payment was "substantial," but that earlier litigation demonstrating Stericycle's billing practices and other settlements signaled that class counsel was not actually taking on much risk, the Seventh Circuit said.

And on top of that, the court didn't properly consider just how early on in the litigation the case was settled, according to the decision.  At the very least, the district court should've considered whether the preliminary stage of the litigation warranted a reduction in the requested fee, it said.  The Seventh Circuit also remarked that it wasn't convinced the settlement was a good outcome for the class, but that neither Petri nor anyone else was challenging that.

Class Counsel Defend Fee Request in Subaru Windshield

August 13, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Jeannie O’Sullivan, “Subaru Windshield Class Counsel Defend $515K Fee Bid”, reports that Glancy Prongay & Murray LLP and Greenstone Law PC sought to justify their $515,000 counsel fee request for representing a class of Subaru drivers plagued by crack-prone windshields, telling a New Jersey federal court that all they're asking for is the going rate for attorneys in the region of their caliber.  In a brief, the firms made their case for wanting to charge $850 for senior partners down to $225 for paralegals, pointing to other cases in which courts gave the green light for the same rates.  U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb had questioned the fee ask in June when she gave her final approval to a deal that provides extended warranties and a reimbursement program.

"Class Counsel's hourly rates have been approved by courts in this district and are within the range of rates approved by the courts in this district for attorneys of comparable experience and skill," the firms told Judge Bumb in their brief.  The firms pointed to counsel fee rates approved in securities class actions such as Li et al. v. Aeterna Zentaris Inc. et al. in June and Sun v. Han et al. in March 2018, both in New Jersey federal court.

The firms emphasized that, because they agreed to cap the fees at $515,000, the overall lodestar was reduced by 40% to $464,520.65.  As result, when divided by the 1,219 hours of work performed, the blended hourly rate turns out to be $381, according to the brief.  The number of hours is likewise justifiable, according to the firms.  Judge Bumb had wondered about the amount of time class counsel actually spent on the Subaru case, given that the settlement deal was modeled on Subaru's pre-litigation offer to extend the warranties.

Although modeled on a prior market action, the firms said, "it took skill and tenacity to vet the appropriateness of that action and meaningfully further extend the duration of the relief from five years to eight years" for a 60% increase.  Class counsel also improved the relief by implementing safeguards in the deal to ensure consumers with valid claims weren't rejected, according to the brief.  The firms went to say that the total hours billed, which spanned 3.5 years, was also reasonable.

The brief detailed the coordination and effort involved in the investigation, the drafting of three complaints spanning two districts, discovery, general case management, motion practice and mediation.  The task also involved communicating with more than 100 class members, according to the brief.  The hours spent were comparable to those approved in automobile defect class settlement deals involving Volkswagen, Volvo, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota, the brief said.

Class counsel is likewise entitled to its $50,479.35 request to cover costs and expenses, the firms said, noting that courts have approved things like "photocopying expenses, telephone and facsimile charges, postage, messenger and express mail charges, witness fees, filing fees, expert costs, computer-assisted research," among others.  The firms said $28,331.08 of that figure is reimbursement for expert expenses.

Saxena White Secures $40.5M in Fees in DaVita Investor Settlement

July 16, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Katryna Perera, “DaVita Investor Attys Score $40.5M in Fees From Settlement”, reports that the law firms that represented investors in a case against health care company DaVita Inc. were awarded $40.5 million for their work on a $135 million class-action settlement of claims that shareholders were hurt when it was revealed that the company pressured patients to enroll in high-cost, private insurance plans.  U.S. District Judge William Martinez of the District of Colorado awarded attorney fees of 30% of the settlement fund as well as reimbursement of $547,409.27 in litigation expenses and $10,000 in representative rebates after the lead plaintiffs requested it.

Attorneys from Saxena White PA and Shuman Glenn & Stecker represented the plaintiffs, led by the Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund of Georgia and the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund.  Judge Martinez said the attorney fees would be calculated using a percentage rather than the lodestar approach because the case is a common fund case.

In his order, Judge Martinez mentioned the "extensive and extremely comprehensive investigation" the attorneys conducted and how time-consuming the settlement negotiations were.  Over four years of litigation, the lead counsel expended more than 31,000 hours, equivalent to $14.7 million in attorney and staff time, the judge said.  Additionally, the lead counsel will continue to work and incur out-of-pocket expenses in connection with the distribution of the settlement, now that it has received final approval, Judge Martinez noted.

A 30% award fee is typical even in "megafund" settlements, the judge said, and he noted the prominence of the $135 million resolution, calling it an "exceptional" monetary result.  "The $135 million recovery represents the second-largest all-cash securities class action recovery ever obtained in this district, is among the top five such settlements in Tenth Circuit history, and is more than 20 times larger than the $6.7 million median for securities class action settlements in the Tenth Circuit from 2010 to 2019," Judge Martinez said.

The judge also pointed out the risk that law firms take with class actions, as there is no guarantee of success.  "To date, lead counsel has received no compensation for its prosecution of this case, and since the extensive commitment of time and resources devoted here necessarily entailed the preclusion of other projects, the primary focus of this factor is to acknowledge this incongruence by permitting a higher recovery to compensate for the risk of recovering nothing," he said.

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.

NALFA: Hourly Rates Above National Averages in Large Chapter 11 Cases

May 6, 2021

A recent The American Lawyer story by Dan Roe, “Kirkland and Weil’s Fees in Chapter 11 Work Highlight Big Law Allure to Bankruptcy,” reports that even as the number of commercial Chapter 11 bankruptcies has dropped in recent months, large bankruptcies have continued to churn out big fee packages for some law firms—one reason why firms are continuing to invest and hire in their bankruptcy practices.  For instance, a glance at law firm fees in two cases—the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Sears, filed October 2018, and the May 2020 J.C. Penney bankruptcy—reveal the cases have totaled more than $150 million for law firms since they beganMost of the money has gone to Am Law 200 firms, with some partners billing for more than $1,500 per hour.

Representing Sears Holdings Corp., Weil, Gotshal & Manges emerged as the biggest fee-earner in the Southern District of New York bankruptcy case, with more than $80 million in fees and expenses paid through the end of February 2021. Its partners billed between $1,695 and $1,200 per hour, while associates charged $1,100 to $595.  Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld also made out big on the Sears bankruptcy.  Representing the bankruptcy’s unsecured creditors, the law firm received $48 million in total compensation through the end of February 2021 with a blended rate of $853 per hour.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, representing Sears, received almost $20 million, although most of it was completed before last year.  Its attorneys averaged $790 per hour, with partners topping out at $1,650.  And Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz did $873,000 worth of work representing Sears, with a blended rate of $1,287 and partners billing up to $1,500.  Meanwhile, the J.C. Penney bankruptcy has generated more than $28 million in fee revenue for law firmsRepresenting J.C. Penney, Kirkland & Ellis took most of the spoils with two massive fee applications totaling $20.9 million, with a blended attorney rate of approximately $1,000.

Cooley and Cole Schotz represented the creditor committee, with the former firm taking home $4.2 million in fee revenue with a blended rate of $970 average billing rate.  Cole Schotz earned $2.1 million for work it performed in the second half of the year, maintaining a $643 average hourly rate per attorney.  Katten Muchin Rosenman put in 1,318 professional hours to earn $1.1 million in fee revenue while representing J.C. Penney, averaging $960 per attorney per hour, while Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, representing the store’s subsidiaries, cleared $827,000 for its work in the second half of 2020, averaging just over $1,000 for its hourly rate.

The J.C. Penney restructuring also benefitted smaller-sized firms such as the New York law firm Herrick Feinstein, whose attorneys billed around $500 per hour for $1.5 million in fees.  The opportunity for large fee awards in Chapter 11 work continues to drive a flurry of bankruptcy partner hires.  In the last week, Willkie Farr & Gallagher added a three-partner bankruptcy group from Morrison & Foerster who represent creditor committees in high-profile cases and Sidley Austin hired Tom Califano, previously global co-chair and U.S. chair of DLA Piper’s restructuring group.  Last month, Kirkland brought on Christine Okike from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

"Our analysis, from our most recent litigation hourly rate survey, shows that all these Chapter 11 bankruptcy rates are well above the approximate national averages," said Terry Jesse, Executive Director of NALFA.  "In fact, hourly rates in large Chapter 11 bankruptcies, may be one of the highest rate-charging practice areas, " Jesse wondered.

For more on NALFA's national averages, visit NALFA Releases 2020 Average Hourly Rates in Litigation.