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Category: Legislation / Politics

Can Texas Force Lawyers to Pay Prevailing Party’s Fees in Federal Litigation?

October 31, 2021

A recent article by John Connolly, “Can Texas Force Lawyers to Pay the Prevailing Party’s Legal Fees in Federal Litigation?,” reports on the new Texas legislation, SB 8 and its attorney fees provision.  This article was posted with permission.  The article reads:

The new Texas abortion law known as S.B. 8 has been the subject of extensive commentary for its “bounty” cause of action against abortion providers and “aiders and abettors.”  But the law creates a second cause of action that may infringe the right to counsel in federal courts and, as a result, may face its own judicial scrutiny.

The second modification to the Texas Code creates a cause of action against litigants and their lawyers who challenge the enforceability of any Texas law that regulates or restricts abortion, including but not limited to S.B. 8. See SB 8 § 4 (amending Texas Civ. Prac. & Remedies Code § 30.022).  The provision applies to cases filed in state or federal court.  If the party defending the Texas law prevails, that party can seek fees and costs in a new action filed in Texas state court within three years of final judgment in the underlying action. Id. § 30.022(c).  The lawyer is jointly and severally liable with the client for the fees and costs.  The fee-shifting provision, although somewhat ambiguous, appears to be entirely one-way; i.e., if the party challenging the law prevails, that party is not entitled (through § 30.022) to recover fees and costs from the opposing party or counsel.

Many other statutes and rules expose lawyers to attorney’s fees for misconduct during litigation, but as a few commentators have explained, S.B. 8 appears to be the first law that makes lawyers liable based solely on the issue they are litigating.  In view of other provisions in S.B. 8 that intentionally frustrate judicial challenges of the statute, it seems beyond doubt that one purpose of § 30.022(c) is to impede a litigant’s attempt to obtain counsel to challenge a Texas abortion law.

For cases litigated in federal court, § 30.022 violates at least the spirit of 28 U.S.C. § 1654, which provides that “In all courts of the United States the parties may plead and conduct their own cases personally or by counsel as, by the rules of such courts, respectively, are permitted to manage and conduct causes therein.” Section 1654 traces back to the Judiciary Act of 1789. See 1 Stat. 73, § 35 (Sep. 24, 1789). Thus, the right to private (or retained) counsel in federal judicial proceedings is older than the Sixth Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights, and the right to retained counsel is so accepted that case law defining its limits in federal civil cases is sparse. Most case law under § 1654 relates to the right to proceed pro se, but the statute also codifies a right to proceed with private counsel of one’s choice. See Texas Catastrophe Property Ins. Ass’n v. Morales, 975 F.2d 1178, 1181 (5th Cir. 1992); McCuin v. Texas Power & Light Co., 714 F.2d 1255, 1262 & n.24 (5th Cir. 1983); Bottaro v. Hatton Assocs., 680 F.2d 895, 897 (2d Cir. 1982). As the text of the statute provides, the right is subject to reasonable rules “of such [i.e., United States] courts.” A body of precedent makes clear that the right to counsel does not override, for instance, the requirement that an attorney hold a valid license, which typically is conferred and regulated in the first instance by state law. E.g., Eagle Assocs. v. Bank of Montreal, 926 F.2d 1305, 1308 (2d Cir. 1991). But ethics and licensing requirements are laws of general applicability, and federal courts usually adopt them through their own local rules. As far as I can tell, no state law seeks to impede access to counsel in federal courts more clearly and directly than S.B. 8.

Nevertheless, it is hard to predict whether a federal (or state) court would strike down § 30.022 under § 1654 or some other doctrine protecting the right to counsel in federal courts. In the criminal context, where the Sixth Amendment protects a right to appointed counsel for indigent defendant and to retained counsel of one’s choice for others, see Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 53 (1932), the Supreme Court has upheld a federal statute prohibiting the use of forfeitable funds to retain defense counsel. Caplin & Drysdale, Chartered v. United States, 491 U.S. 617 (1989). The four dissenting justices observed that “the reluctance of any attorney to represent the defendant in the face of the forfeiture threat effectively strips the defendant of the right to retain counsel.” Id. at 654 (Blackmun, J., dissenting). The majority nevertheless concluded that the government had a substantial property interest in the forfeitable funds. Id. at 627-28. That rationale would not apply to § 30.022, of course, as the federal government has no competing interest in the Texas fee-shifting scheme.

Because the right to counsel at issue here is primarily statutory rather than constitutional, the argument would be pre-emption rather than unconstitutionality under the Sixth Amendment. The most pertinent pre-emption doctrine is “obstacle pre-emption,” which applies when a state law imposes obstacles to the purposes and objectives of Congress. E.g., Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67 (1941). In Felder v. Casey, 487 U.S. 131 (1988), for instance, the Court held that state-law requirements that prospective plaintiffs notify government officials before filing suit were pre-empted when applied to federal civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See also El-Tabech v. Clarke, 616 F.3d 834, 840 (8th Cir. 2010) (although state law establishing procedure for payment of federally awarded attorney’s fees was not completely pre-empted, if state claims board rejected an attorney’s fee award “that specific executive or legislative action would almost surely be conflict preempted”). Although these cases are not directly on point, it seems intuitive that a state law requiring lawyers to pay attorney’s fees for unsuccessful federal claims filed in federal courts is a serious obstacle to the federal right to counsel. By all appearances, that is exactly what the Texas legislature intended it to be.

Whether the “obstacle” to retained counsel imposed by S.B. 8 would lead a federal (or state) court to strike it down is a novel question that may itself evade judicial resolution3.  But the question deserves its day in court. Like the bounty cause of action that S.B. 8 creates against abortion providers or aiders and abettors, the fee-shifting cause of action against federal litigants and their lawyers is transportable to other states and other rights. The right to counsel in civil proceedings is not as prominent as the right to abortion, but it is an important right nonetheless, and federal courts should have the last word on whether states can impede the right through legislation like S.B. 8.

1A second basis for pre-emption might be the Texas law’s incompatibility with 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which allows reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in actions to enforce provisions of the federal civil rights statutes, including 42 U.S.C. § 1983. But § 1988 does not allow recovery of fees from opposing counsel. Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper, 447 U.S. 752, 761 (1980). 

2Some courts hold that the right to retained counsel in civil cases is implicit in the due process clause. See, e.g., Morales, 975 F.2d at 1180; contra Kentucky W. Va. Gas Co. v. Pennsylvania Public Util. Comm’n, 837 F.2d 600, 618 (3d Cir. 1988). Like most rights, it is not absolute, and may be overridden for compelling reasons. See 975 F.2d at 1181.

The bounty statute may fall before the fee-shifting provision is tested; the United States’ complaint against Texas, for instance, does not clearly challenge the fee-shifting provision. In addition, because the prevailing party can file the attorney’s fee claim in a new case in state court, that claim might evade judicial review by federal courts. See Bill Johnson’s Restaurants, Inc. v. NLRB, 461 U.S. 731 (1983) (party had First Amendment right to file nonfrivolous claim in state court and NLRB could not order party do dismiss the claim before determination of its merits in state court); 28 U.S.C. § 2283 (anti-injunction act). Nevertheless, state courts would have authority to consider the pre-emption argument, and the Supreme Court ultimately could decide the issue on discretionary review.

Article: Disclosure Requirements for Attorney Fees in Trust & Estate Cases

October 30, 2021

A recent article by Lauren A. Taylor and Melodie Khosrovani, “Written Disclosure Requirements for Attorney Fees in Trust and Estate Administrations,” reports on written disclosure requirements for trust and estate administrations in Florida.  This article was posted with permission.  The article reads:

House Bill 625 (2021), sponsored by Representative Clay Yarborough, R–Jacksonville, amends Sections 733.6167 and 736.1007 of the Florida Statutes to provide that if an attorney intends to charge a fee for an estate or initial trust administration based on the Florida statutory fee schedules, then the attorney must make the following written disclosures to the personal representative or trustee:

  • There is no mandatory statutory attorney fee for an estate or trust administration;
  • The attorney fee is not required to be based on the size of the estate or trust, and the presumed reasonable fee schedule may not be appropriate in all estate or trust administrations;
  • The fee is subject to negotiation between the personal representative or trustee and the attorney;
  • The selection of the attorney is made at the discretion of the personal representative or trustee, who is not required to select the attorney who prepared the will or trust; and
  • The fiduciary shall be entitled to a summary of ordinary and extraordinary services rendered for the fees agreed upon at the conclusion of the representation, which shall consist of the total hours devoted to the representation or a detailed summary of the services performed during the same.

The Bill requires the attorney to obtain the fiduciary’s signature acknowledging receipt of the disclosures above. Importantly, if an attorney fails to make the required disclosures, then the attorney cannot be paid for legal services without prior court approval of the fees or the written consent of all interested parties in an estate administration or the trustee and qualified beneficiaries in an initial trust administration.

The Bill adds, among other things, that when a court is determining reasonable compensation of an attorney, the court is required to consider any fee agreements and if the attorney made the required written disclosures. Further, the Bill adds that the complexity of the estate and trust should be considered, rather than just its size, when determining additional reasonable compensation for an attorney’s extraordinary services.

The Bill was passed by the Senate (39-0) on April 22, 2021. The same was passed by the House of Representatives (113-1) on April 29, 2021. As it stands, the Bill is pending action by Governor Ron DeSantis. If signed by Governor DeSantis, the Bill provides for an effective date of October 1, 2021. If vetoed, legislators can override the veto with a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate.

The Bill is likely to have a positive impact on both attorneys and clients. The required disclosures, set forth above, ensure that attorneys communicate effectively and transparently with clients and promote a mutually acceptable and appropriate fee under the circumstances.

More Doubt if ’Exceptional’ Patent Fees Include PTAB Work

September 2, 2021

A recent Bloomberg Law story by Matthew Bultman, “Doubts Deepen if ‘Exceptional’ Patent Fees Include PTAB Work,” reports that companies that win an “exceptional” patent lawsuit can be reimbursed for their attorneys’ fees—but they can’t count on recouping money spent fighting at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board.  Patent law allows the winning side to collect fees from the losing side when a district court judge finds that the lawsuit is “exceptional,” as outlined in Section 285 of the Patent Act.  Courts are split on how the law applies to PTAB expenses.

Some courts have found the fees can include money companies spent challenging a patent at the PTAB after being sued.  Recently, however, other judges, including a magistrate judge in Delaware, have indicated those are likely sunk costs.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has yet to provide a definitive answer, but “it is pointing in the direction, perhaps, that awards are not going to be given for proceedings that are outside of the district court case,” Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP attorney Rubén Muñoz said.

While PTAB reviews are a less expensive way to challenge a patent’s validity, the proceedings can still cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the Delaware case, a judge said PTAB fees may account for a significant portion of the $1.1 million and $1.5 million Dish Network LLC and Sirius XM Radio Inc. spent in the litigation, respectively.  For smaller businesses, in particular, that’s not an insignificant expense.  A bar on recovering those fees could be a consideration in their litigation strategies.

‘Optional’ Proceedings

Questions about whether Section 285 allows companies to recover costs at the patent office predate the 2011 America Invents Act, the law that created the popular inter partes reviews at the PTAB.  In 1988, the Federal Circuit ruled Celanese Polymer Specialties Co. could recoup fees spent opposing PPG Industries Inc.’s reissue patent applications at the agency.  Celanese had been sued for infringement, and the court said its participation in the agency proceeding wasn’t optional.  The court also said the patent office proceeding “substituted for the district court litigation” on certain issues.

How the Federal Circuit views “the relevance of that case may drive its ultimate decision on whether or not fees can be awarded for PTAB work,” said Sandip Patel, an attorney at Marshall Gerstein & Borun LLP.  Without deciding the question, the Federal Circuit said last year in the Dish and Sirius cases it saw “no basis in the Patent Act for awarding fees under § 285 for work incurred in inter partes review proceedings that the Appellants voluntarily undertook.”

While the statement wasn’t binding, Magistrate Judge Jennifer Hall in the District of Delaware agreed. In a recent report, the judge emphasized Dish and Sirius weren’t required to challenge Dragon Intellectual Property LLC’s patent at the PTAB, but rather that they chose to do so.

Some attorneys say the realities of patent litigation mean PTAB reviews aren’t that optional.  Most of the patents challenged at the PTAB are brought by a defendant that has been sued in district court on the patent, a 2016 study found.  “Because most IPRs are filed because there’s a parallel district court action and because it’s common sense to have an inexpensive determination of validity, rather than a ridiculously expensive evaluation of it, it’s not so voluntary,” Patel said.  “It’s practical,” Patel said, “and that’s the way people proceed.  That’s the way business is conducted in patent litigation after the AIA passed.”

Substituting Work

Some district courts have been more willing to allow defendants to recover fees spent at the patent office.  A judge in the Eastern District of Texas, for example, said in 2017 that My Health Inc. owed companies almost $60,000 for work on an IPR petition because the “defendants never would have sought IPR if they had not been sued for allegedly infringing.”  In another case involving Southwest Airlines Co., a judge in the Southern District of California said the airline could recover fees for reexamination proceedings at the patent office because the proceeding “essentially substituted for work that would otherwise have been done before this court.”

Hall acknowledged the My Health and Southwest cases, but said their reasoning wasn’t persuasive.  While Dish and Sirius argued they were effectively being punished for choosing the more “efficient route,” Hall said to take it up with Congress.  “Federal courts don’t make policy,” Hall wrote, recommending the companies’ fee award be limited to what they spent in the district court.

Dish and Sirius XM have objected to Hall’s report, which will be reviewed by a district court judge.  The companies argue, among other things, that inter partes reviews aren’t optional because defendants sued for infringement have one year to file for inter partes review - “a non-extendable deadline to act.”

Revisiting PPG

Questions about PTAB fees have put a spotlight on the Federal Circuit’s decision in PPG. Some legal scholars say the court took a wrong turn in its decision, and skipped an important step by looking at whether the proceedings were optional.  Megan La Belle, a law professor at Catholic University of America who studied the subject, said the U.S. Supreme Court has established a clear framework for recovering fees for work in administrative tribunals.

The first step is to look at the language of the relevant statute.  Section 285 states that courts “in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party.”  Administrative proceedings, like PTAB reviews, generally aren’t viewed as “cases,” La Belle said.  “You only get to that second step if there’s an argument that administrative proceedings are captured by the language of the statute,” La Belle said.  “I think clearly they’re not under 285.”

Another avenue for companies could be to pursue fees directly at the patent office.  The PTAB has the power to sanction a party for misconduct at the board, which can include frivolous arguments.  But La Belle suggested in a 2016 article that Congress pass legislation allowing for recovery of PTAB fees in exceptional cases in district court.  “From a policy perspective, to me it seems obvious that the Congress that passed the AIA, if they thought about this and if they were asked the question, ‘Can you recover fees for AIA proceedings?,’ I don’t see why they would ever say ‘No,’” La Belle said.

Article: New Attorney Fee Law May Be Boon To Florida Property Insurers

September 1, 2021

A recent article by Christine Renella and William Zieden-Weber, “New Fla. Atty Fee Law May Be Boon To Property Insurers,” reports a new law in Florida that amends Florida's attorney fees statutes, Sections 626.9373 and 627.428 of the Florida Statutes, as they apply to property insurance disputes.  This article was posted with permission.  The article reads:

Florida S.B. 76, designed to curb first-party property insurance litigation in Florida, took effect on July 1.  While the bill addresses several critical property insurance topics including roof-surface reimbursement schedules, regulation of contractors, proper notice, the right to inspect, and determination of whether abatement is applicable, the crown jewel of the bill amends Florida's infamous attorney fees statutes, Sections 626.9373 and 627.428 of the Florida Statutes, as they apply to property insurance disputes.

Background to Florida Attorney Fees Statutes

In most jurisdictions in the U.S., each party to insurance litigation pays its own attorney, regardless of the outcome of the litigation.  In fact, a court may only award attorney fees to the prevailing side if authorized by statute or agreement of the parties to the litigation.

Florida, however, is one of the minority jurisdictions that has allowed an insured to recover his or her own attorney fees if the insured prosecutes a lawsuit to enforce an insurance policy for more than a hundred years.  Florida has kept some version of this law on the books since 1893, and it reads in pertinent part as follows, with the underlined text added by S.B. 76:

Upon the rendition of a judgment or decree by any of the courts of this state against an insurer and in favor of any named or omnibus insured or the named beneficiary under a policy or contract executed by the insurer, the trial court or, in the event of an appeal in which the insured or beneficiary prevails, the appellate court shall adjudge or decree against the insurer and in favor of the insured or beneficiary a reasonable sum as fees or compensation for the insured's or beneficiary's attorney prosecuting the suit in which the recovery is had.  In a suit arising under a residential or commercial property insurance policy not brought by an assignee, the amount of reasonable attorney fees shall be awarded only as provided in s. 57.105 or s. 627.70152.

The Florida Supreme Court has historically supported the need for fee and cost reimbursement in the realm of insurance litigation as being deeply rooted in public policy.  The court has given the Legislature deference in this area of the law, recognizing its sentiment on how essential it is to level the playing field between the economically advantaged insurance companies and the individual citizen.  However, practicing Florida attorneys have seen a perversion of this intent play out in recent years.  In first-party coverage disputes specifically, an insured would often file a lawsuit in instances in which the dispute was simply over the scope of damages.

This created a situation in which, as long as an insured prevailed in its lawsuit with a judgment greater than any amount of the insurance proceeds originally paid by the insurer — even $1 — the insured would be entitled to attorney fees.  As such, insureds were often able to leverage larger settlements using the attorney fees statutes.

Section 627.70152 Notice Requirement

Florida's new legislation effectively puts an end to the attorney fees statutes as they pertain to property insurance, which historically established a strong presumption that using a "lodestar fee" to compensate attorneys for property insurance claims was considered sufficient and reasonable.  This presumption is only rebutted in rare and exceptional circumstances with evidence that competent counsel could not have been retained in a reasonable manner.

Instead, S.B. 76 creates a new statute, Section 627.70152, which establishes a scheme for attorney fees structured around a presuit notice requirement.  Now that S.B. 76 has passed, the path to attorney fees for an insured is less certain, and insurers are hopeful that the vast number of suits filed against insurers in Florida every year will decrease.  Specifically, the burden has essentially shifted to an insured to prove entitlement through the imposition of a judgment between 20%-50% higher than the presuit settlement offer in order to obtain fees.

Additionally, the notice requirement provides an additional hurdle for insureds in that a suit may not be filed prior to the issuance of a written notice of intent.  Specifically, the notice statute imposes a notice requirement on claimants, stating that as a condition precedent to filing suit under a property insurance policy, a claimant must provide the insurer with written notice of intent to initiate litigation.  Under the notice statute, this notice must be served by certified mail, return receipt requested, or electronic delivery at least 10 days before filing suit, but may not be served before the insurer has made a coverage determination under Section 627.70131.

The immediate effect of the statute is the prohibition of suit prior to a coverage determination being issued.  This alone will lead to less litigation as insurer's often file suit before the conclusion of the investigation of a claim and issuance of a coverage determination.  Additionally, the statute requires that each notice include the following information: (1) that the notice is being provided pursuant to this section; (2) the alleged acts or omissions of the insurer giving rise to the action;and (3) that the notice has been provided to the insured if represented by an attorney.

In cases in which the notice is provided following a denial of coverage, the notice must include an estimate of damages.  In cases in which the notice is provided following something other than a denial of coverage, the notice must include the disputed amount of damages and a presuit settlement demand itemizing damages, attorneys fees and costs.  The online form used to submit the notice can be found on the civil remedy and required legal notices webpage of Florida's Division of Consumer Services.

The additional information required per the statute including the disputed amount of damage and presuit settlement demand in cases other than a denial of coverage will provide insurers with the requisite information necessary to evaluate the claim prior to suit being filed.  Prior to the imposition of the statute, insureds were able to file suit at anytime without having ever provided insurers with supporting documentation that in many cases would obviate the need for suit altogether. However, after July 1, insurers are in a position to address disputed damages in an attempt to avoid lawsuits.

In response to the notice, an insurer is now required to respond in writing within 10 days.  Specifically, in the response to a notice regarding denial of coverage, the insurer must either (1) accept coverage, (2) deny coverage, or (3) assert the right to reinspect the property within 14 business days.  Conversely, in the response to a notice regarding something other than denial of coverage, the insurer must respond by making a settlement offer or requiring the insured to participate in an appraisal process.

As a check and balance on the presuit process, the notice statute allows a court to dismiss without prejudice any suit in which the claimant failed to provide notice or the presuit period did not properly conclude, again reducing the amount of frivolous lawsuits that insurers are forced to defend.  If a claimant commences an action in a Florida court based upon or including the same claim against the same adverse party that such insured has previously voluntarily dismissed, then the court may order the insured to pay the attorney fees and costs of the adverse party resulting from the action that had previously been voluntarily dismissed.

Finally, the notice statute states that the notice and other documentation is admissible as evidence in a civil action or an alternative dispute resolution proceeding.  The notice and submissions requirements do not limit the evidence of attorney fees, damages or loss that may be offered at trial.  They also do not relieve any obligation that an insured or assignee has to give notice under any other provision of law.  While the notice statute imposes more stringent requirements on policyholders, the effect in practice will likely be a dramatic reduction in the amount of suits filed.  Accordingly, litigation costs for insurers will decrease, while meritorious suits are likely take less time to filter through the courts.

Section 627.70152 Attorney Fees Scheme

Most importantly, the notice statute sets a forth a new scheme for calculating the amount of attorney fees allowed to be awarded, which is based on the difference between the amount ultimately obtained by an insured compared to the amount originally in dispute.  That difference can then result in three distinct scenarios:

  1. The claimant does not recover attorney fees — when the difference between the amount obtained by the insured and the presuit settlement offer by the insurer is less than 20% of the amount in dispute during the presuit notice period, a claimant may not be awarded attorney fees under Sections 626.9373 and 627.428.
  2. The claimant recovers 20%-50% in attorney fees — when the difference between the amount obtained by the insured and the presuit settlement offer by the insurer is between 20%-50% of the amount in dispute during the presuit notice period, a claimant may recover the same percentage of attorneys fees under Sections 626.9373 and 627.428.
  3. The claimant recovers all attorney fees — when the difference between the amount obtained by the insured and the presuit settlement offer is greater than 50% of the amount in dispute at the presuit during the presuit notice period, a claimant the full amount of attorney fees under Sections 626.9373 and 627.428.

With the applicability of fees now based on this mathematical formula, courts will have considerably less discretion to order payment of attorney fees and costs, and insureds will be less inclined to race to the courthouse.  Many Florida practitioners hope that the notice statute will tip the scales in favor of a more balanced scheme for the imposition of attorney fees and costs.  While previously insureds were able to recover fees upon the rendition of a judgment alone, now insureds will be forced to show entitlement through the imposition of a judgment at least 20% higher than the amount in dispute during the notice period.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the notice statute is expected to bring much needed change to the landscape of property insurance litigation in Florida by adding some semblance of balance to a historically hostile environment for property insurers.

Election Year Politics Fuel AGs Fee Opposition in Opioid MDL

October 20, 2020

A recent Law 360 story by Jeff Overley, “Opioid Settlements Stymied By Atty Fee Demands, AGs Say,” reports that massive fee demands from plaintiffs attorneys in multidistrict opioid litigation are the main reason settlements haven't been finalized with major drug companies in a broader wave of opioid cases, two state attorneys general said, a provocative claim that drew a fast and fiery backlash.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a lead negotiator in efforts to resolve thousands of opioid-crisis lawsuits, was the first AG to deliver the bare-knuckle assertion.  He did so during a speech in Dauphin County — home to the Keystone State's capital city of Harrisburg — about an addiction-treatment initiative.

"If the private attorneys involved in these negotiations were a bit less worried about the amount of money going into their own pockets, and more worried about the unnecessary lives being lost in Pennsylvania and the other states across our country, I'd be able to stand here in Dauphin County today and talk about the resources that we were bringing back for treatment to Pennsylvania," Shapiro said.  "We'll get there soon," the Democratic attorney general added, "but sadly, too many of those private attorneys are standing in the way of progress right now."

Shapiro, who is up for reelection next month, largely echoed those comments at a subsequent speech in Northumberland County.  He has been working with the attorneys general of Tennessee, Texas and North Carolina to broker settlements with pharmaceutical companies facing thousands of lawsuits that accuse them of fueling a catastrophic epidemic of painkiller addiction.

In a statement provided to Law360, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III, a Republican, said that he was "in total agreement with General Shapiro."  "There is nothing to indicate that the opioid crisis has abated in any way.  The AGs recognize the urgency.  We wish the plaintiff attorneys did too," Slatery said.  "Then we could finalize some things and get significant help on the ground to alleviate the crisis.  Instead, we are spending too much time arguing about attorney fees and costs."

Several top lawyers for local-government plaintiffs in the opioid MDL pushed back on Shapiro's remarks shortly after he delivered them.  "The aggressive and untiring efforts of plaintiffs attorneys against the opioid companies over the last six years are the main reason there even are settlement negotiations," Paul Hanly Jr. of Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC told Law360. "We seek justice and abatement funds for all communities across the nation.  As for ourselves, we seek only fair compensation for a job superbly done."

Paul Geller of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, another top lawyer for the MDL plaintiffs, suggested that Shapiro was claiming credit for settlement offers that only exist because of work done by MDL lawyers.  Geller likened Shapiro to Rosie Ruiz, who infamously snuck into the homestretch of the Boston Marathon in 1980 and claimed to have won the race.  "The AG's actions remind me of Rosie Ruiz," Geller said.  "She jumped in near the end … and hurried to 'win' a race that others actually ran for the long and grueling entire 26 miles."

These developments were the latest examples of infighting that first emerged when the attorneys general in October 2019 unveiled several deals with drug companies.  One of the proposed settlements was a $4 billion accord with Johnson & Johnson; the drugmaker last week upped its offer to $5 billion, and the MDL attorneys reacted favorably.

The other proposed settlements would cover drug distributors McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., which last year tentatively reached an $18 billion deal with the attorneys general.  Multiple sources said that the distributors are now offering more money, although they declined to provide a precise value.  "I will confirm that we wouldn't be talking to them if they weren't offering substantially more than they had offered under the original deal presented by the four AGs," Motley Rice LLC co-founder Joe Rice, a lead lawyer for the opioid MDL plaintiffs, told Law360.

Hunter Shkolnik of Napoli Shkolnik PLLC, another MDL plaintiffs attorney, told Law360 that Shapiro last year "said the plaintiffs were at fault for rejecting the $18 billion settlement they negotiated, [but] it's one year later and billions more have been offered because of our work and our rejection."  It's unclear how far apart the AGs and the plaintiffs lawyers are on attorney fees and costs.  Some AGs and drug companies have said plaintiffs attorneys could reap more than $3 billion in the MDL, which targets several other large companies beyond J&J and the distributors.

"There's a dispute about asking the distributors and Johnson & Johnson to pay the out-of-pocket litigation costs for the municipalities," Rice told Law360.  "The attorney generals got all of their out-of-pocket litigation costs paid.  But they refuse to add the same type [of] costs for the municipalities that have been litigating for years, and there's a dispute over that.  But it's in the tens of millions of dollars.  It's not huge."

The MDL contains roughly 3,000 cases filed mostly by cities and counties that want money for health care and law enforcement costs related to opioid abuse.  Some MDL attorneys also represent cities and counties with similar cases in state courts.  The attorneys general of virtually every state have also filed cases in state courts, sometimes with the assistance of lawyers in private practice.  A source close to the negotiations, speaking with Law360 on condition of anonymity, said that the attorney fees are "a real sticking point" because attorneys general fear they would siphon away badly needed funds for addiction treatment and prevention.