A recent Law 360 by Gina Kim, “Joint Juice Maker Rips Class Attys’ ‘Overstated’ $8.3M Fee Bid,” reports that Premier Nutrition asked a California federal judge to cut $2.4 million from class counsel's "bloated and unreasonable" $8.3 million fee request in litigation over allegedly misleading advertising claims about its Joint Juice, citing block billing, overstaffing, lavish hotel stays and fringe expenses for "boba and coffee runs dating back to 2013." In a 33-page opposition, Premier Nutrition's attorney Steven E. Swaney of Venable LLP accused class counsel, except for Iredale & Yoo, of presenting to the court "a bloated and unreasonable application asking this court to award $8,274,516" in combined fees, expenses and costs.
Premier argued the lodestar calculation of the two other class counsel firms, Blood Hurst & O'Reardon and Lynch Carpenter "betray a lack of 'billing judgment,'" as they propose a fee award that doesn't approximate what a paying client is willing to approve. Their lodestar calculation is "massively overstated" since it includes time spent for other related Joint Juice class actions, Premier argued, pointing out the plaintiffs only prevailed in one of 11 related cases but are now submitting a fee bid as if they prevailed on all of them.
Excluding Eugene Iredale and Grace June of Iredale & Yoo, Premier complained that Blood Hurst and Lynch Carpenter's billing records are riddled with inefficiencies, including "top-heavy administration of work," block billing, billing in quarter-hour increments, overstaffing, nontravel work billing and other things. Examples include Blood Hurst lawyers billing 24 or more hours per day and submitting several duplicative entries on a single day, staffing six lawyers on the trial, "two of whom sat passively in the gallery of the courtroom" and charging $575 per hour for a contract attorney, Craig Straub, doing document review, the opposition states.
"As explained in the declaration of Premier's fee expert Steven Tasher, a 40% across-the-board percentage reduction to BHO's and Lynch Carpenter's lodestar is warranted to account for these inefficiencies," Premier said. "The total lodestar for class counsel should be reduced to $2,406,809. This constitutes approximately 29% of the judgment amount, which aligns with the Ninth Circuit's 25% benchmark for reasonable fees."
Premier balked at class counsel's suggestion for the court to apply a multiplier to pump their fee award if their lodestar is reduced, and also took issue with their "extravagant expenses" that it said warrants an across-the-board cut in their claimed charges.
"Class counsel also seek reimbursement from Premier for every sundry or fringe expense they encountered over this decade-long litigation, including boba and coffee runs dating back to 2013," the opposition states. "Class counsel even tries to bill Premier for hundreds of dollars in laundry expenses incurred during trial — even though they apparently traveled back home to San Diego that same day."
The opposition references defense's expert, Tasher, who reviewed the billing entries and opined the class counsel's requests costs also reveal "a 'spare no expense' approach" to the case along with double billing and "phantom charges." "In my opinion, while the dollar value for many of these items may seem small, they reflect a big attitude of no cost being too great to throw onto the bill and eat, drink and be merry on someone else's dime," Tasher wrote. "No paying client would tolerate class counsel's lifestyle expenses or lavishness."
Premier said that Blood Hurst and Lynch Carpenter's proposed lodestar figure was grossly inflated and warrants dramatic cuts across the board, arguing that the firms can't include time spent on class representative depositions in other related actions in their calculation. Blood Hurst's proposed lodestar also includes nearly 1,000 hours for trial prep spent in Mullins, which Premier said should be removed since the Mullins trial never occurred. It's inappropriate for Blood Hurst to get 100% of the fees for work common to the related cases based on the successful outcome of just one case, the opposition states.
Premier also sought a 40% cut to Blood Hurst's remaining lodestar account for several deficiencies in their billing practices, noting that the firm's Timothy Blood and Thomas Joseph O'Reardon billed for work done in 2013 at their current hourly rate, which is significantly higher.
While Blood, partner Paula Brown and Straub billed 1,000 hours for trial prep, Blood was the only one who had an active role at trial, and O'Reardon and Straub "sat passively in the gallery," Premier alleged. Premier also accused Straub and O'Reardon of billing extra hours after trial each day and erroneously adding entries that exceed 24 hours a day "or are obvious duplicates," totaling $62,207.50.
Premier also attacked Lynch Carpenter's fee bid of $392,392.50, arguing the billed work was entirely spent on Mullins. The fee should be apportioned among the related cases and then cut by 40% due to excessive time and top-heavy administration work, Premier said. That should leave Lynch Carpenter with $20,842.77. "As an initial matter, in what can only be described as a shocking act of chutzpah, Mr. Carpenter — who has not worked on these cases since 2020 — includes in his fee petition 13.7 hours to fly to San Francisco to observe one day of trial on May 25, 2022," the opposition states.
Nor should class counsel recover fees and deposition costs for experts that weren't used in the Montera suit, Premier said. Furthermore, several charges from the two firms weren't only lavish and extravagant, but also "purely wasteful," Tasher said.
"Each of these issues is exacerbated by the level of staffing," Tasher wrote. "Had the trial been staffed with attorneys Iredale, Jun and Blood, (the three attorneys who actually appeared on the record to try the case), the expenses would also have been much more modest. However, given the excessive staffing (and related trial expenses) of attorneys [Todd] Carpenter, O'Reardon and Straub, the costs grew exponentially, considering the additional flights, Uber/taxi charges, meals/alcohol, and snacks brought about by these three additional timekeepers (essentially double the trial team.)"