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Class Counsel Defend Fee Request in Subaru Windshield

August 13, 2021 | Posted in : Billing Record / Entries, Expenses / Costs, Fee Allocation / Fee Apportionment, Fee Award Data, Fee Award Factors, Fee Jurisprudence, Fee Reduction, Fee Request, Hourly Billing, Hourly Rates, Hours Billled, Lodestar, Practice Area: Class Action / Mass Tort / MDL

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.