CALIFORNIA CLASS ACTION LAW

Category: Attorneys’ Fees

After a Dispute Among Counsel for a Putative Class Regarding the Sharing of Attorneys Fees, the Northern District Denied a Motion to Terminate Counsel of Record

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The United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied plaintiffs’ motion to terminate its counsel of record and appointed a special master in Red v. Unilever PLC, No. C 10-00387 JW, 2010 WL 3629689 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 14, 2010).  Certain plaintiffs in a class action filed a notice of termination of Beck & Lee and Reese Richman LLP as counsel.  Id. *1.

Background

Plaintiffs allege in the class action that Defendants engaged in false advertising for the product “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!”  Id. Three law firms undertook representation of the named Plaintiffs and the putative class, pursuant to a Joint Prosecution Agreement.  Id. *2.  On August 16, 2010, Mr. Weston, one of Plaintiffs’ attorneys of record, filed a Notice of Termination, effectively moving to terminate the Reese Richman and Beck & Lee firms as co-counsel for Plaintiffs. Id. *1. Two days later, Beck & Lee filed an Opposition to the Notice, charging the Weston Firm with engaging in “a shocking course of unethical and bad faith conduct.” Id. Beck & Lee’s Opposition contended, inter alia, that: Read the rest of this entry »

Google Settles Google Buzz Class Action Litigation for $8.5 Million Cy Pres Fund, With No Money to Class Members, But a 25% Attorneys’ Fee Award

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On Friday, plaintiffs submitted their unopposed motion for preliminary approval of a class action settlement in the In re Google Buzz User Privacy Litigation, Case No. 5:10-CV-00672-JW, Docket No. 41 (N.D. Cal. Motion Date Sept. 3, 2010).  The settlement calls for an $8.5 million cy pres fund, but no award to individual class members, other than $2,500 incentive awards to lead plaintiffs.

Plaintiff alleged the following: Read the rest of this entry »

Granular Fee Opinion From Southern District, Reducing Hourly Rates from $250-400 to $225-295, and Reducing Fee for Low Success

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District Judge Larry Alan Burns, in Gold v. NCO Financial Systems, Inc., No. 09cv1646-LAB (CAB), 2010 WL 3339498 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 23, 2010) (slip op.) considered a fee motion after defendant’s Fed. R. Civ. P. 68 offer of judgment was accepted.  The court, in a quite granular opinion, reduced the requested  hourly rates of $250-400 to $225-295.  The court also reduced time for block billing, intra-office communication, and unnecessary work.  Id. **3-4.  Comparing the fees to the $3,000 judgment achieved for plaintiff, the court reduced the fee award by 1/3 to $6,207.43.  The court reduced the costs from a requested $2,406.51 to $71.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

Ninth Circuit Holds That Deadline for Objection to Class Action Fee Award Must Be Set for Date After Plaintiff’s Counsel Files Fee Motion

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday clarified the timing of objections to class counsel’s fee requests under Fed. R. Civ. Proc. Rule 23(h), holding that objectors must be given a deadline to object after plaintiff’s fee application is submitted.  The litigation in In re Mercury Interactive Corp. Securities Litigation, No. 08-17372, — F.3d —-, 2010 WL 3239460 (9th Cir. Aug. 18, 2010), which involved stock option backdating, settled early on, at the motion to dismiss stage.

A settlement class was certified, the settlement of $117.5 million in cash was approved, and attorneys’ fees of 25% ($29.375 million) were awarded pursuant to the settlement agreement.  No objections were made to the settlement itself, but two objections were made to the proposed attorneys’ fees.  Id. *2.  The court described lead counsel’s fee application as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Northern District Approves 28.9% Fee Award in Wage and Hour Class Action Settlement

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Judge Jeffrey S. White approved a wage and hour class action settlement of a non-reversionary $1.8 million, inclusive of $520,000 in attorneys fees, in Ozga v. U.S. Remodelers, Inc., No. C 09-05112 JSW, 2010 WL 3186971 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2010).

Plaintiff filed a class action in the Alameda Superior Court on February 17, 2009, alleging that Defendant U.S. Remodelers Inc. violated the California Labor Code and violated California Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders by: (1) requiring its Installer employees to work substantial amounts of time without compensation; (2) regularly failing to provide Installers with meal and rest periods; and (3) refusing to reimburse expenses that Installers incurred in the performance of their work duties, including travel expenses and equipment costs.

Defendant removed the action to this Court, and Plaintiff subsequently moved to remand.  But before the hearing on the motion to remand, the parties reached a settlement, which was facilitated, in part, by a mediation that occurred on October 1, 2009, before Michael Loeb.  The parties also engaged in some discovery, and Class Counsel interviewed a number of Settlement Class members.

The Court finds that the terms of the Settlement are fair, adequate and reasonable. As noted, the settlement was reached after the parties engaged in discovery, conducted a meditation, and continued to engage in arms-length negotiations. The parties agreed to a Settlement payment of $1,800,000.00, none of which will revert to the Defendant. The overall reaction to the settlement has been positive. The Claims Administrator has received 156 claim forms from the 270 Class Members. (Id., ¶¶ 20-21.) Neither the Claims Administrator nor the Court received any objections to the Settlement. No Class Member appeared at the final approval hearing to object. According to the Claims Administrator, assuming the Court were to grant in full Plaintiff’s motion for attorneys’ fees and costs and service awards, approximately $1,108,917.72 would be available to distribute Class Members who submitted timely claim forms, for an average award of just over $7,000. (Id. ¶¶ 16-18.)

The Court approved costs to be paid to the Claims Administrator of $10,000.00 from the Settlement Fund.

Attorneys Fees, Costs, and Service Awards

Plaintiff brought an unopposed fee application, seeking $600,000.00 in attorneys’ fees, $11,274.89 in costs, and $10,000.00 in service awards to him and to class member Boris Moskovich.

Plaintiff’s counsel sought an award of attorneys’ fees based on the percentage method, asking for 33 1/3% of the Settlement Fund.  The court agreed to depart from the 25% benchmark.  See Vizcaino v. Microsoft Corp., 290 F.3d 1043, 1047 (9th Cir. 2002) (noting that 25% is benchmark and “usual” range of awards is 20-30%); Hanlon v. Chrysler Corp., 150 F.3d 1011, 1029 (9th Cir. 1998) (stating that 25% is benchmark).  But the court would not vary from the benchmark to the degree requested by counsel.

The Court concludes that counsel did achieve an excellent result for the class, that the reaction to the settlement has been overwhelmingly positive, and that Plaintiff faced significant risk in prosecuting this case given the uncertain state of California law in similar wage and hour cases. The Court also recognizes that other courts have awarded settlement fees of up to 33 1/3% in such cases. However, the parties reached this settlement quickly and did not engage in any motion practice. See, e.g., Navarro v. Servisair, 2010 WL 1729538 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 27, 2010) (finding that proposed award of 30% of settlement fund unjustifiably departed from benchmark based in part on speed with which parties reached a settlement). Moreover, the requested percentage would amount to award that is more than double the fees actually incurred by counsel. Compare Vasquez v. Coast Valley Roofing, Inc., 266 F.R.D. 482, 491 (E.D. Cal. 2010) (awarding 33 1/3% of settlement fund which was “significantly less” than asserted lodestar).

Thus the court found that an award of  $520,000.00 was reasonable.

The court found counsels’ requests for costs in the amount of $11,274.89 reasonable.

The court also approved service awards in the amount of $10,000.00 for the lead plaintiff and for a class member.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

Northern District Approves $4.5 Million Settlement Against RadioShack, With $1.5 Million in Fees, and $5,000 Incentive Payments to Each Lead Plaintiff

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Magistrate Judge Edward M. Chen (whose confirmation to the Northern District of California bench has unfortunately been stalled for far too long) approved the class settlement and attorney fee application in Stuart v. RadioShack Corp., 2010 WL 3155645, No. C-07-4499 EMC (N.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2010).

This class action was initiated in state court in June 2007, alleging that RadioShack had improperly failed to reimburse its employees for expenses they incurred in using their personal vehicles to perform inter-company transfers (“ICSTs”). Plaintiffs claimed for reimbursement pursuant to California Labor Code § 2802 and for a violation of California Business & Professions Code.  Subsequently Plaintiffs added a claim for recovery of penalties under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”).  The case was removed in August 2007. And in February 2009, Judge Chen granted the motion for class certification, certifying a class consisting of “all persons employed by RadioShack within the State of California, at any time from June 3, 2003, to the present, who drove their personal vehicles to and from RadioShack stores to carry out ICSTs and who were not reimbursed for mileage.”  On October 1, 2009–nine days before trial was scheduled to begin–the parties reached a settlement.

Under the Settlement Agreement, RadioShack will pay a total of $4.5 million for the release by the class, as an all-inclusive sum (proceeds to be distributed to the class, attorney’s fees and litigation expenses, costs of claim administration, incentive payments to the class representatives, and the PAGA award to the state), without reversion of any of the $4.5 million to RadioShack.

After attorney’s fees, litigation expenses, costs of claim administration, incentive payments, and the PAGA award to the state have been deducted from the $4.5 million, the remainder for distribution to the class members and/or donation to charity is $2,796,563.31.

Each class member’s award “depends on the number of weeks that the class member worked.”

The Court found that, importantly, “the amount available to the class after deductions for, e.g., fees and costs–i.e., $2,796,563.31–is not far off what the class might be awarded if it were to prevail on the merits after a trial.” Id. *4.

Plaintiffs’ counsel asked for an award of $1.5 million  (i.e., one-third of the total settlement amount), plus litigation expenses which total $78,436.69.

The Court has reviewed the expenses and determined that they are reasonable. The Court notes that the sum is not excessive given that this litigation has been ongoing for more than three years.

Attorneys Fees Application

The attorneys presented a fee application claiming $1.5 million as a lodestar for fees–excluding work performed in preparing for final approval and any post-judgment work that may be needed.  The $1.5 million sum represents 2,116.69 hours of work over a period of more than three years, at hourly rates of the billing attorneys ranging from $600 to $1,000.

After reviewing the billing records submitted by counsel as well as the declarations regarding the hourly rates of counsel, the court found that the number of hours was reasonable given the length of the lawsuit and the vigorous disputes over the course of the litigation (e.g., regarding RadioShack’s defense that it had no duty to reimburse until an employee made a request for reimbursement).

The court did express some “concerns about the $1,000 hourly rate” claimed by one of the attorneys.  “Based on the Court’s experience, this is an inordinately large hourly rate, even if the Court were to assume that [the attorney] has fifty years of experience.”  But the Court concluded that “given the 2,116.69 hours incurred, the average hourly rate for a fee award of $1.5 million total is $708, an amount that the Court deems appropriate, particularly when no multiplier is being sought on top of the lodestar.”

Compared to the percentage of the fund, the court noted that “the total settlement amount to be paid by RadioShack (with no possibility of reversion), the fee award represents one-third of the settlement amount.”  The court found that this was “well within the range of percentages which courts have upheld as reasonable in other class action lawsuits.”

The court also approved an incentive award of $5,000 for each of the two class representatives, for a total of $10,000.  The Court concluded that the incentive payments were appropriate and reasonable.  “Although the class representatives did not enter this litigation until late in the proceedings, due consideration must be given to the fact that they were willing and ready to go to trial.”  The court noted that if the “class representatives had asked for a larger sum, the Court might well have reached a different conclusion, but the $5,000 sought for each representative was viewed as “relatively modest.”

By CHARLES H. JUNG

Central District Approves $4,385,000 and 30% Attorney Fee Award in Class Settlement of Cicero v. DirecTV, Inc.

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Judge Avern Cohn of the Central District of California approved a wage and hour class settlement in Cicero v. DirecTV, Inc., 2010 WL 2991486 (C.D. Cal. July 27, 2010) (not reported).  Judge Cohn approved a payout fund to class members of $4,385,000, a 30% attorney fee award of $1,950,000 to class counsel, and incentive awards of $7,500 and $5,000 the representative plaintiffs.

The class action claimed violations of California’s wage and hour laws.  The named plaintiffs are former satellite television installation and service technicians who brought this case individually and on behalf of all other similarly situated current and former satellite installation and/or service technicians against their former employers Mountain Center, Inc., and Ironwood Communications Inc. (currently DirecTV, Inc. doing business as DirecTV Home Services, collectively “Defendant”) for allegedly violating California’s labor and unfair competition laws. Named Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant violated applicable provisions of the Industrial Welfare Commission’s (“the IWC”) Wage Orders, the Labor Code, and the Business and Professions Code by: (1) failing to provide employees duty-free meal periods; (2) failing to reimburse employees for tools necessary to the performance of the employees’ work; (3) failing to pay wages for all hours worked, including hours worked in excess of eight per day and forty per week; (4) failing to pay all wages owed employees upon termination of the employment relationship; and (5) failing to provide accurate wage statements.

The parties engaged in two mediations of the matter before the Hon. William Cahill (Ret.) in March, 2009, and subsequently before the Hon. Diane Wayne (Ret.).

The Court approved the attorneys’ fees request, which represented 30% of the total gross settlement amount.  The Court noted that:

California recognizes the common fund doctrine for the award of attorneys’ fees. Under California and Ninth Circuit precedent, a court has discretion to calculate and award attorneys’ fees using either the lodestar method or the percentage-of-the-fund method. Wersha v. Apple Computer, Inc., 91 Cal.App. 4th 224, 253 (2001); Vizcaino v. Microsoft Corp., 290 F.3d 1043 (9th Cir.2002). The Court, in its discretion, finds that the percentage method is a fair, reasonable, and appropriate method for awarding attorneys’ fees in this case. . . .

Overall, although this percentage is slightly higher than the 25% benchmark for fees in class action cases, it is consistent with other wage and hour class actions where the recovery is less than $10 million. Moreover, there have been no objections to the amount of attorneys’ fees. The Court therefore finds that the amount of attorneys’ fees is warranted by the complexity of the case and Class Counsel’s dedication of extraordinary time and resources to the prosecution of this claim.

Id. **6-7.

By CHARLES H. JUNG