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Judge Rips Fee Request, Claims Rate in Meta Class Settlement

October 23, 2023 | Posted in : Contingency Fees / POF, Expenses / Costs, Fee Award Factors, Fee Request, Fees & Claims Rate, Hourly Rates, Hours Billled, Practice Area: Class Action / Mass Tort / MDL, Settlement Data / Terms

A recent Law 360 story by Bonnie Eslinger, “Judge Rips Claims Rate, Fee Bid in $37.5 Meta Tracking Deal”, reports that a California federal judge held off giving final approval to Meta Platforms Inc.'s $37.5 million deal to resolve claims it tracked 70 million users' locations, calling the 1.3% claims rate "overall a poor result" and saying the $9.3 million attorney fee request is "just not going to happen."  During the hearing in San Francisco, U.S. District Judge James Donato was told payouts are going to roughly 907,600 people out of an estimated 70 million possible claimants. He called the number "paltry."

The judge also took aim at the proposal to hand a 25% cut of the settlement — more than $9.3 million — to the plaintiffs' attorneys, saying the bill includes hours for too many attorneys.  "Right now, you want a $9 million chunk out of an already miniscule settlement, and that just strikes me as unfair to the class," the judge said.  He noted the plaintiffs are asking for fees for 66 people who worked on the case.

"I can't approve this," the judge said.  "I have had many, much larger cases, including my multidistrict litigation cases, which resulted in settlements that dwarf this one by hundreds of millions of dollars, and they had 12 people."  The plaintiffs also didn't provide enough support for their billable hour rates, $900 to $1,200 per hour, the judge said.  "The rates are at the high end where most of the work here was done," Judge Donato remarked.  "For some reason, [instead of] the less-expensive associate level."

The judge also said he needed more details about the reimbursement request for $322,464 in expenses.  He asked for more information about the administration fees, which, according to the plaintiffs, were now about $900,000, with another $300,000 bill expected to cover the cost of providing payments to the claimants.  The judge said the costs seemed high.  "I'm going to withhold approval until I see that," Judge Donato said. "I want a complete accounting."