Friday, January 21, 2011

Apple backdating litigation update

We opposed preliminary approval of the Apple settlement because there was a possibility that money would go to third parties at the expense of class members. The settling parties assured the court that that wouldn't happen, but have not disclosed the number of claims made on the settlement fund to date. So today we filed an objection to the settlement contingent upon whether the settlement fund goes to the class members or to third-party cy pres. If the settlement fund does end up in the hands of the class, we're going to ask for a token amount of attorneys' fees to reflect the $2.5 million we won for the class.

The case is In re: Apple Inc. Securities Litigation, No. 06-5208 (N.D. Cal.); the fairness hearing is scheduled before Judge Fogel on February 18 in San Jose.

Additional briefing in the HP Inkjet Printer coupon settlement case

The briefing by the settling parties in support of final approval seemed exceptionally poor, though I admittedly have never been in a position where I've tried to defend an indefensible settlement. We see another quack economic expert report inventing tens of millions of dollars of "benefit" from a worthless settlement. We filed our opposition today, with references to Seinfeld, Bart Simpson, The Great Gatsby, and the legal tradition of table-pounding—as well as an article written by lead class counsel for the trial-lawyers' lobby where he admits to the worthlessness of the settlement.

The case is In re HP Inkjet Printer Litigation, No. 05-3580 (N.D. Cal.), and the fairness hearing will be before Judge Jeremy Fogel on January 28 in San Jose.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

NVIDIA GPU Settlement - HP replacement computers

Update: Court rules for NVIDIA. If you're a class member with questions about the case, and why your attorneys argued against your own recovery, you need to talk to your attorneys at Milberg; I cannot help you. Please do not contact me about this case asking how you can get your computer fixed.
In the NVIDIA GPU settlement, owners of HP notebook computers affected by a defective chip had to be thrilled: the settlement notice promised them that, with proper documentation, they would receive a “replacement HP notebook computer … of similar kind and value as their eligible malfunctioning notebook computer.” But after the settlement was approved, they learned,much to their displeasure, that their class counsel, Milberg LLP, negotiated that they could only receive an entry-level Compaq CQ50, often worth over a thousand dollars less than the computer they would be replacing. Let's hope this is an oversight, rather than a deliberate attempt to deceive the class and the court: I senta letter to the settling parties' counsel today asking for clarification.

Update, January 16: I'm getting dozens of emails from class members because of a couple of posts on HP-related message boards from class members suggesting that I be lobbied. Please understand that I am not in a position of power to unilaterally do anything about the settlement. I am an attorney who represents consumers pro bono in similar situations where attorneys try to rip off class members in settlements. I am certainly interested in this case based on what I've heard, and I am investigating at the request of a class member. I agree that the current settlement claims process is inconsistent with the notice given the class; you don't need to try to convince me of that fact. If the settling parties don't do anything to fix the problem, and can't satisfy me that they have a legal basis to do what they did, and research determines that legal intervention has a chance of fixing the matter, I'll write back a few of you to see if you can generate a signed declaration for the court proceedings to help the court understand the extent of the breach of the class counsel's promise to the class. But I amnot your attorney unless you and I agree to a signed retention agreement that I am your attorney. The fact that I wrote a letter to the class counsel about this question does not mean that you should not investigate the possibility of legal representation for yourself.

Update, January 18, 4:15 PM Eastern: I have not received anything in writing as of this afternoon. I called the Milberg firm, and they claim that the information on the website is "premature" and not the "final" version of the settlement. This is mysterious, given that Milberg has control over the website. Worse, Milberg refuses to provide anything in writing that the website will be updated with different information, so Milberg can deny that they told me this later. Still, there is a claim that there will be a "meeting" tonight to discuss modifications to the claims process. One would hope that any such modifications includes corrective notice to the class and an extended claims process to make up for the inaccurate information previously given. I will check the settlement website next week. The low level person I spoke to did not seem to understand the difference between an objection to a judge's decision and asking Milberg to comply with the judge's order, and kept asking me if I thought the judge had made a mistake. Class members thinking of writing me should instead politely call Milberg at 213.617.1200 and get an answer about whether and when the Milberg NVIDIA settlement website is up to date, and why inaccurate or "premature" information has been posted to the website. If Milberg tells you something different than they told me, leave a comment here.

Update, January 26, 7 PM Eastern: I finally spoke with Mr. Westerman at Milberg. He's asked me for more time to negotiate with NVIDIA to work through some of these issues. Depending on whether the settlement administration procedure changes, at the end of the day, we may or may not agree whether the parties are in compliance with what the settlement and the class notice promised, but I'm willing to give him the chance: my preference is for the parties to make this right without me getting involved by filing papers with the court. If I sign up clients, I will not be signing up dozens of clients: I will be working with two to five people who have very clear-cut cases where the CQ50 or the Asus EEE T101MT-EU17-BK is self-evidently to a layperson not a “replacement HP notebook computer … of similar kind and value as their eligible malfunctioning notebook computer” and ask for classwide relief; I may contact a few other class members and ask for them to provide declarations supporting the argument. That said, you should not view my participation in the case as a reason not to retain a lawyer on your own: I am not your lawyer unless we have a signed retention agreement. While I am happy to receive spec sheets describing the model of your computer and comparing it to the replacement computer, please do not contact me asking me for updates or for personalized legal advice: I will update this blog post as new information comes in; if you've read the blog post, you know everything I know and can tell you.

Update, February 1: After another conversation with Mr. Westerman today, I will reevaluate the situation on February 9.

Update, February 10. The settlement website has been finally modified: claimants deemed ineligible between January 10 and January 22 are encouraged to resubmit claims; the replacement computer remedy for HP notebook computers will be a Compaq Presario CQ56 computer, rather than a CQ50. That still doesn't address the tablet problem; leave your comments on your thoughts about the CQ56. Mr. Westerman has asked me to refrain from action this week (and, frankly, the press of other commitments in existing cases would mean that I would need to do that anyway). Please remember that I am not your attorney and cannot provide individualized advice on how to respond to the settlement, and please do not rely upon me as your only recourse; there may be other attorneys willing to look into this. In particular, I encourage you to contact the consumer division of your state attorney general's office (and city/county office as well, if you have one). I will check back in with Mr. Westerman February 15.

Update, February 16 - The settlement has been modified, though in ways that do not solve the grievances earlier discussed for most class members. A number of class members have formally retained me; we'll be filing some sort of papers with the court before the end of the month asking for the court to intervene to enforce the promises made to the class, though I'm still doing research as to what form those papers will take, and whether we're proceeding against just NVIDIA or both NVIDIA and class counsel. (NVIDIA counsel never responded to my letter.) I did not speak to Mr. Westerman on February 15, and he's in court today, but I'll try to reach him tomorrow to determine class counsel's position on our petition to the court, and whether they'll cooperate with us or oppose us. (I would view any opposition as a breach of fiduciary duty to the class.) One thing I know we'll want is declarations in support of our motion. If you're interested in submitting such a declaration (under oath, under penalty of perjury) to the court expressing your thoughts on why the computers are not of like kind and value, leave information in this thread with a way to contact you, and someone may be in touch with you next week (though we probably will not have the chance to get declarations from everyone who offers to issue one). Please continue to note: (1) if we do not have a retainer agreement, I am not your attorney in this case; (2) I cannot offer individualized advice about how to respond to the settlement; and (3) if you do submit a declaration to the court, you do so voluntarily to help the cause of your fellow HP owners: it does not make me your attorney.

Update, February 22 - One of my clients has established the website to summarize what's happening and collect potential declarations from other class members. While he is doing the declaration data collection on my behalf, he is not speaking for me, but the site is a useful compendium of information. We may end up with dozens of declarations, but I am not going to want to overwhelm the court, and will likely only use six to twelve of them. I am currently negotiating a briefing schedule with the settling parties in the hopes of getting a hearing date with the court before the claims period expires; without court approval for expedition, there wouldn't be a hearing before April.

Update, February 24 - We filed papers with the court yesterday. Further updates will be in this post.

Victory: court rejects settlement

We'd like to think our objection had at least a little to do with the end result.

This decision is not a big surprise after the court was severely critical of the settlement during the December 16 fairness hearing. We won't know for a while why the court rejected the settlement, but Judge Richard Jones today issued an order stating that he did so, that the parties should return to litigation, and that a formal opinion would be forthcoming. (The parties might reasonably murmur that they're hard pressed to have productive settlement negotiations until they know where they fell short in the court's eyes.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bachman v. A.G. Edwards coupon class action settlement appeal

Our unsuccessful objection to the Bachman v. A.G. Edwards settlement, which consisted almost entirely of time-restricted non-transferable $8.22 coupons, received press coverage at the time. The question of whether to value a coupon at full face value or at the actual (or reasonably anticipated) redemption rate is a question of first impression in Missouri state courts; our appellate brief was filed Monday.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Oral argument scheduled in the Bluetooth case

The Ninth Circuit has scheduled oral argument in the Bluetooth case for Monday, February 7, 9 a.m., in the federal courthouse in Pasadena. (Five other cases are on the calendar, so I probably won't get my fifteen minutes until after 10 a.m.) I'm undefeated (well, ok, 1-0) in that courthouse.

The first time I ever visited the Pasadena courthouse was in the fall of 1992, when a memorable young law clerk in Alex Kozinski's chambers named Eugene Volokh quizzed me about the issue of toughening evidentiary standards for expert witnesses in what I think was the first law-clerk interview of the season for 1994-95. (That was the first attempt of the judiciary and the legal academy to create a cartel for the hiring of law clerks, and I unwittingly caused it to break down when I sent my resume out without consulting with the law school, and Judge Kozinski started calling people in for interviews, causing a chain reaction that unraveled everyone's plans.) Eugene, of course, went on to bigger and better things.

If you're in the DC area, and you're interested in putting in a few hours reading briefs and throwing questions at me on a moot court later this month, please drop me an email. (Friends from Kirkland & Ellis: sorry, you're adverse to me in this case, so you're not invited.)