Friday, October 10, 2014

Cy Pres You'll Read This

Learn about the state of cy pres law without having to pay for a CLE class!

Today, Washington Legal Foundation published a short and useful working paper authored by James M. Beck and Rachel B. Weil titled "Cy Pres" Awards: Is the End Near for a Legal Remedy With No Basis in Law? 

The paper effectively summarizes recent litigation demonstrating courts' skepticism of such awards, wherein settlement funds are paid to third parties instead of to class members.

Beck and Weil highlight some CCAF-generated precedents, such as Chief Justice Roberts's statement in Marek v. Lane, 134 S. Ct. 8 (2013), the Third Circuit's opinion in In re Baby Prods. Antitrust Litig., 708 F.3d 163 (3d Cir. 2013), and the Seventh Circuit's opinion in Redman v. Radioshack Corp., ___ F.3d ___, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 18181, 2014 WL 4654477 (7th Cir. Sept. 19, 2014). (Credit is also due to Bexis, the blogging nom de guerre of Mr. Beck, whose post "Sunsetting Cy Pres" drew attention to the Redman ratio's applicability to cy pres remedies just one day after Redman v. Radioshack was decided.)

The rationale for having a defendant settle class members' claims by paying money to third parties is that it would be impossible to compensate the class members themselves. But it's a reverse Robin Hood, wherein money that belongs to the aggrieved nationwide mass of class members is taken and funneled to well-connected recipients, like the plaintiffs' lawyers' preferred local charities and alma maters. Sometimes, it isn't even true that class members can't be located!

What do you think about cy pres? How do you think it should be pronounced: see pray, or sigh pray?

Leave your comments below.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Oral Argument in Pearson v. NBTY, Inc.

Are you trick-and/or-treating in downtown Chicago this Halloween?

If so, visit the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to watch oral argument in Pearson v. NBTY, Inc., No. 14-1198 (7th Cir.). That's 9:30 a.m. in the Main Courtroom on October 31, 2014, at 219 S. Dearborn Street.

Ted Frank will be arguing for appellants in full costume (i.e. business formal court attire) as The Class Action Avenger.

You can read the background about this settlement in our last post about it. Basically, it's under $900,000 for class members, $1.1 million for third parties, and $4.5 million for plaintiffs' lawyers. Class members also get some labeling changes to the sued-over glucosamine bottles, changes which are alleged by the plaintiffs' lawyers to be worth $21 million. For example, instead of saying "Osteo Bi-Flex works by providing the nourishment your body needs to build cartilage, lubricate, and strengthen your joints," the label could say "Osteo Bi-Flex works by providing the nourishment your body needs to support cartilage, lubricate, and strengthen your joints" (italics added free-of-charge). See the opening brief for what "is perhaps the best 13,000-word summary of CCAF philosophy."

Plaintiffs, calling this settlement a "tremendous result," cross-appealed when the district court awarded them $2.1 million in attorneys' fees and expenses instead of $4.5 million. That $4.5 million, after all, "was negotiated at arm's-length by the parties" and, since the requested fees were only up to 2.56 times greater than the plaintiffs' lawyers' billing rate for the labor they expended, the requested fees were "certainly not excessive."

The briefing proceeded as follows:
Oral argument audio will be available at this link on October 31 or November 1: follow our blog for updates.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Opening Brief in Gascho v. Global Fitness Holdings

Candy corn, pumpkin pie, egg nog . . . no wonder that three months from now we'll all be joining gyms.

So let's inaugurate the 2014 Holiday Season with the opening brief in this appeal of an unfair settlement over gym memberships: Gascho v. Global Fitness Holdings, LLC, No. 14-3798 (6th Cir.). (You might remember this settlement from November 2013, when it was winding its way through the district court.)

Joshua Blackman, a class member, Texas citizen, law professor, former Sixth Circuit clerk, current client of CCAF, blogger, and author, objected to this settlement, which paid $2.4 million to class counsel and representatives, yet only $1.6 million to the class: a Redman ratio1 of 60%.

Main Question: Is it fair for a settlement to so privilege attorneys with "preferential treatment" over their clients? Sixth Circuit law suggests the answer is, "No."

Bonus Question: What is the value to the class of a settlement that pays the class $1.6 million? The answer: $8.5 million, according to the magistrate judge below, who literally split the difference between the amount that class members actually received and the $15.5 million they would have received if every single one of them--even those who hadn't been notified of the settlement--submitted a claim. Respectfully, CCAF and Professor Blackman believe that's a legally erroneous approach.


1"The ratio that is relevant to assessing the reasonableness of the attorneys’ fee that the parties agreed to is the ratio of (1) the fee to (2) the fee plus what the class members received." Redman v. Radioshack Corp., -- F.3d --, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 18181, *16, 2014 WL 4654477 (7th Cir. Sept. 19, 2014) (Posner, J.). The higher the ratio, the worse the settlement.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Victory! Redman v. Radioshack

CCAF won a tremendous victory for class members in Redman v. Radioshack, just eleven days after oral argument!

Judge Richard Posner, a legal authority renowned worldwide, wrote an excellent and accessible opinion, explaining that class action plaintiffs' attorneys' fees must be proportionate to the benefit they've realized for their clients, and that a coupon is a coupon regardless of the percentage discount that it represents.

You can read more about the underlying case here. The oral argument made headlines last week, and is also a fun listen. (Ted Frank appears at 9:40 and 54:55.)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Redman v. RadioShack, Inc. / oral argument today

As we discussed earlier, class counsel agreed to a settlement over RadioShack credit-card receipt legality that would have paid themselves $1 million, but the 16-million-member class 83 thousand coupons with a face value of $10. The district court approved the settlement because (1) it held the $2.25 million spent to distribute those coupons was a class benefit and (2) the coupons weren't "coupons." Oral argument is scheduled this morning in the Seventh Circuit. Some time this afternoon or tomorrow, a recording of the argument will be available online.

The reply brief was fun, as plaintiffs were forced to defend an indefensible argument. From pages 5-6:

1.                  Plaintiffs rely on a logical fallacy.

It is not unfair to summarize plaintiffs’ proposed syllogism as follows:
1.         There exist websites that offer coupons where each coupon provides only a partial discount. PB26.
2.         There exists legislative history that criticizes a coupon settlement where the coupons offered provided only partial discounts. PB24-25; PB28.
3.         Therefore all “coupons” provide only partial discounts.
4.         Therefore a voucher for a free product is not a “coupon.” PB29-31.
The formal fallacy in plaintiffs’ logic is even more apparent in the following analogy:
1.         There exists a dog racing track where each racing dog is a greyhound.
2.         Actor Leonard Nimoy owns a dog that is a greyhound.
3.         Therefore all dogs are greyhounds.
4.         Therefore a collie is not a dog.
Nimoy’s most famous character had a catchphrase for this.[5]

[5] Cf. Leonard Nimoy, Highly Illogical on Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy (Dot Records 1968). Or, as Woody Allen once said, “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore all men are Socrates.” Love and Death (United Artists 1975).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Oetting v. Green Jacobson / Oral argument September 10 in 8th Circuit on cy pres

Bank of America settled a nationwide securities class action in the E.D. Mo. for hundreds of millions of dollars. For some reason, the district court judge ordered that $2 million or so of the settlement fund not be distributed immediately. By a few years later in 2013 (after interest and restitution from a settlement administrator employee that had embezzled from the settlement fund), there's $2.7 million left over. At the behest of St. Louis class counsel, but over the objection of the class representative, the district court distributes that money not to the class, but to a local St. Louis charity. Class counsel rushes to hold a ceremony delivering the check notwithstanding the automatic stay on such things.

The class representative, David Oetting, retained us to take the lead on the appeal to the Eighth Circuit in a fascinating case where just about everything we complain about in the world of cy pres abuse took place. Oral argument is scheduled for the morning of September 10, and will be available at this link that afternoon or the next day. Law360 ($) coverage.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Laguna v. Coverall N.A.

Coverall N.A. settled a class action over janitorial franchises by paying a $1M attorney fee and setting up a claims-made process that would pay about $56,625 to the class. The parties justified this settlement by pointing out injunctive relief that some class members would be eligible for; if the maximum number of class members took advantage of the injunctive relief, they said, it would be worth $20 million. Wait a second, complained an objector: most class members will never take advantage of the injunctive relief because they're not eligible for it, and the court should get that data from the defendant to find out the true value of the injunctive relief before approving a settlement that might run afoul of Bluetooth. The district court approved the settlement without engaging in the inquiry: meh, maybe the injunctive relief isn't worth $20 million, but if it were worth $4 million, the settlement would be fair. (After all, perhaps the settling parties might exaggerate the value of injunctive relief by 400%, but what monster would ever exaggerate the value of injunctive relief by 20-fold or 100-fold?)

The objector (not represented by us) appealed. On June 3, the day after Eubank v. Pella Corp. was decided, the Ninth Circuit affirmed on abuse-of-discretion grounds, over a fervent dissent that pointed out the decision contradicted both Pampers and existing Ninth Circuit precedent. 

Now here's where it gets interesting. The objector petitioned for en banc review. While the petition was pending, Coverall paid him $15,000 to drop his appeal (more than a quarter of the cash relief paid to the class), and the objector did so. But Ninth Circuit judges can request a vote for en banc review sua sponte, and the Ninth Circuit issued an order demanding a response to the petition. That order granted leave to amici to file briefs on the subject, and how could the Center for Class Action Fairness resist? The appellant's en banc petition focused on conflicts with Ninth Circuit law, so our amicus focused on the circuit split created by Laguna, as well as the interesting and largely unresolved jurisdictional issues. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Allen v. Dairy Farmers of America

What happens when class counsel wants to settle and the class representatives do not? Rule 23(a)(4) and the Constitution require adequate class representation before individual class members can be bound. If class counsel can hijack a class and force a settlement when no class representative approves, it would seem to unconstitutionally abrogate the Rule 23(a)(4) inquiry. If class representatives have limited power to bind a class (as the Supreme Court has held in Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles and Smith v. Bayer Corp.), how can a class without any representation do so? And if a zombie class can proceed and settle without any class representatives, why have the Rule 23(a) requirements at all, and not just allow attorneys to sue on behalf of a class without any individual standing?

This issue is about to arise in Allen v. Dairy Farmers of Am., Inc., No. 5:09-CV-00230 (D. Vt.), where class counsel moved for preliminary approval of a settlement without a single class representative agreeing to the settlement. Unfortunately for the class representatives, the Second Circuit permits this shenanigan; unless the district court steps in, they will need to persuade the Second Circuit to reverse itself and join circuits like the Seventh that hold that class representation requires class representatives, or eventually take the case to the Supreme Court. The district court has so far withheld preliminary approval, so the class representatives may be able to prevail on the merits without need for resort to the niceties of constitutional law and procedural protections for absent class members, but this will someday be an issue that the Supreme Court resolves, and almost certainly resolves against current Second Circuit law.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Letter to Chicago Lawyer Magazine

To the editor:

Your June 2014 article "Cy pres success" contains a material misstatement of the law, when it implies that giving the class's money to legal services organizations is invariably a "recognized approach to avoid granting awards to dubious organizations." A number of decisions, including Ira Holtzman, CPA v. Turza, 728 F.3d 682 (7th Cir. 2013), have held such cy pres recipients to be inappropriate, rejecting the reasoning of the article for such distributions. 

One might overlook this statement as an excusable oversimplification of a complex area of the law, except that the author's firm, McDermott Will & Emery, currently represents the National Legal Aid and Defender Association in at least two pending appeals (including one adverse to one of my clients, Oetting v. Green Jacobson, No. 13-2620 (8th Cir.)) where it is arguing for affirmance of cy pres awards against existing precedent. This conflict is nowhere disclosed in the article.

Very truly yours,

Theodore H. Frank
Center for Class Action Fairness
Washington, DC

Friday, June 6, 2014

Eubank v. Pella Corporation (7th Cir. 2014)

Judge Posner writes a very interesting Seventh Circuit opinion reversing a settlement approval on multiple grounds. A lot of friends forwarded the decision to me. I got to write back that I had argued it.

This wasn't a Center for Class Action Fairness case; the Center is a non-profit and restricted by federal tax law to cases where the client would not be able to retain a private attorney. But an objector's counsel retained my private solo law practice to assist with the briefing for one of the objectors; I then argued the appeal in Chicago in April along with counsel for the class representatives frozen out of the deal.

But even if it's not a CCAF case, it's worth discussing here. The opinion is going to be very helpful to class members, including several CCAF cases pending on appeal. While a lot of the press coverage has focused on the scathing remarks Judge Posner had for the unique conflicts of interest of class counsel, the opinion more importantly also singled out as improper several practices the Center has repeatedly complained about: the use of separate funds for attorneys' fees with reversion to the defendant; the use of imaginary hypothetical valuations of settlements based on bogus assumptions about the number of claims that would be made; grouping disparate sets of class members (in this case, thirteen or so different categories of settlement relief) into a single settlement class; and "quickpay" provisions where class counsel takes its check early in the proceedings while the class is not entitled to relief until years down the road. And more.

Brian Wolfman points out that the opinion notes the silliness of approving settlements based on low opt-out rates.

The opinion also had kind words for the important role played by objectors in policing abusive class-action settlements. And as I joked to friends, this victory was particularly special for me, because the client wrote me a check.

Coverage: ForbesOverlawyeredChicago Daily Law BulletinLitigation Daily ($); Legal Newsline/Washington ExaminerABA JournalNational Law;; Workplace Class Action BlogBlawgletter.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Opening brief in Redman v. RadioShack

RadioShack committed the sin of printing credit-card receipts with expiration dates on them, which exposed it to possible liability of $100 a receipt ($1000 if willful), a bankrupting sum. Class counsel settled for coupons. Our clients objected that the settlement did not comply with CAFA's limitations on coupon settlements, and was structured so that class counsel's benefit would outstrip that of the class. As is typical in coupon settlements these days, the settling parties denied that the coupons were coupons. For some reason, the district court bought the argument, and awarded $1M in attorneys' fees while the 16-million-member class will receive 83 thousand coupons with a face-value of $10, give or take. We've appealed, and filed our opening brief April 16.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ninth Circuit win in Apple MagSafe case

The Apple MagSafe settlement paid the attorneys $3.1 million, but the class less than a quarter of that, yet the district court rubber-stamped settlement approval without addressing the objection to the self-dealing by class counsel, and, worse, imposed an illegal $15,000 bond to appeal the case. We posted the bond and appealed. (Briefing and oral argument here.) Thursday, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for consideration under the appropriate legal standards, and was especially critical of the abusive appeal bond. The most comprehensive coverage is by Daniel Fisher at There are also stories at The Recorder and Law360 behind subscription paywalls.

I'll note that three times now federal courts have imposed excessive appeal bonds on Center appeals on the non sequitur of a ground that the appeal had little chance of success, and we're two for two in such cases, with the third one pending.

We're also four for four in Ninth Circuit cases, and nine for eleven in intermediate federal courts (eight for ten as appellants).

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Wasserman on cy pres

University of Pittsburgh Law Professor Rhonda Wasserman has a paper on cy pres forthcoming in the USC Law Review, "Cy Pres in Class Action Settlements." The paper discusses in detail two CCAF cases, In re Baby Products Antitrust Litig., and Marek v. Lane.
Monies reserved to settle class action lawsuits often go unclaimed because absent class members cannot be identified or notified or because the paperwork required is too onerous. Rather than allow the unclaimed funds to revert to the defendant or escheat to the state, courts are experimenting with cy pres distributions – they award the funds to charities whose work ostensibly serves the interests of the class “as nearly as possible.” 
Although laudable in theory, cy pres distributions raise a host of problems in practice. They often stray far from the “next best use,” sometimes benefitting the defendant more than the class. Class counsel often lacks a personal financial interest in maximizing direct payments to class members because its fee is just as large if the money is paid cy pres to charity. And if the judge has discretion to select the charitable recipient of the unclaimed funds, she may select her alma mater or another favored charity, thereby creating an appearance of impropriety.
To minimize over-reliance on cy pres distributions and to tailor them to serve the best interests of the class, the Article makes four pragmatic recommendations. First, to align the interests of class counsel and the class, courts should presumptively reduce attorneys’ fees in cases in which cy pres distributions are made. Second, to ensure that class members and courts have the information they need to assess the fairness of a settlement that contemplates a cy pres distribution, class counsel should be required to make a series of disclosures when it presents the settlement for judicial approval. Third, to inject an element of adversarial conflict into the fairness hearing and to ensure that the court receives the information needed to scrutinize the proposed cy pres distribution, the court should appoint a devil’s advocate to oppose it. Finally, the court should be required to make written findings in connection with its review of any class action settlement that contemplates a cy pres distribution.
The first two proposals are arguments we make regularly; the second two are matters for a rule-making body or legislature, but are not going to be enforced in the absence of class action objectors; similar protections for class members in coupon settlements are routinely ignored.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Opening brief in Pearson v. NBTY, Inc., No. 14-1198 (7th Cir.)

In a settlement of several class actions over the labeling of glucosamine supplements, class counsel settled for a claims process that paid the class under $900,000, and token injunctive relief that tweaked the labels, while leaving much of the supposedly fraudulent labeling language in place (and precluding class members from ever suing on that language again). For this, class counsel asked for $4.5 million, claiming that the settlement was really worth tens of millions because 4.7 million class members could have made $3 claims. (In reality, the postcards mailed to ascertainable class members failed to inform them that they were actually class members, and the claims process demanded they provide receipts or other information already in the defendants' possession. Little wonder no money was actually distributed to the class.) Defendant NBTY was really only on the hook for $2 million, of which $1.1 million went to cy pres, though it would have been possible to distribute that money to class members.

To top it all off, the fee request was subject to a clear-sailing clause and reversion to the defendant, the sort of self-serving fee-protection clauses condemned in our Bluetooth victory.

As a class member, I objected, represented by CCAF attorney Melissa Holyoak. The district court approved the settlement, but partially agreed with us that the fee request was excessive, knocking the Rule 23(h) award down to $1.9 million.

We've appealed: we don't think that the Rule 23(e) and Rule 23(h) fairness inquiries are to be done sequentially. NBTY put $6.5 million on the table; class counsel structured the settlement so the class got only a tiny fraction of that money, and ended up costing the class $2.6 million when their excessive fee request reverted to the defendant. We filed our opening brief last week. Because this settlement has so many of the features of bad settlements we object to, it is perhaps the best 13,000-word summary of CCAF philosophy.

Entertainingly, class counsel has cross-appealed: not satisfied with their abusive $1.9 million fee, they want the full $4.5 million.

The case is Pearson v. NBTY, Inc., No. 14-1198 (7th Cir.).

Monday, April 7, 2014

In re Apple MagSafe Power Adapter Litigation oral argument in the Ninth Circuit Tuesday

Class counsel collected $3.1 million in the Apple MagSafe Power Adapter Litigation, but their putative clients received less than $900,000, and perhaps even less than $500,000—the district court never bothered to make findings. The settlement was structured to pay the attorneys double their lodestar but make it difficult for class members to make claims, and few of them did. We represent objector Marie Newhouse, who received $0 under the settlement, and appeals the approval of the self-dealing settlement and the district court's imposition of a punitive appeal bond. We've also moved for sanctions in response to class counsel Mehri & Skalet's Rule 28(j) letter that claimed Newhouse had never made an argument that was in her first issue presented.

The oral argument will be webcast live starting sometime between 10:15 and 11 am Pacific time Tuesday on the San Francisco Courtroom 1 camera; the link will be on the front page of the Ninth Circuit website, and we'll update this post with a link to the podcast of the argument after the Ninth puts it on the site.

Update: oral argument is online.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Interested in co-authoring a law review article?

I keep a list of law review articles I'd like to write. That list has grown to thirteen, ten of which are about class action settlements. The problem is that the time it would take me to write a law review article by myself would take away from my litigating time, and I'm already in a position where I can't prosecute every appeal I would like to prosecute. There are hundreds of professors writing law review articles, and only one non-profit focusing on enforcing the law of class-action settlement fairness, so comparative advantage suggests that I shouldn't change my mind about this. But perhaps you're an academic or an aspiring academic who'd like to build upon the skeleton of my outlines and ideas and jump through the hoops of submitting to law reviews. Happy to have your name go first so long as you take the laboring oar on the second draft. Drop me a line if you're interested.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"Muscle Milk Magnificence"

A former CCAF intern files an entertaining objection to a bad lawyer-driven settlement that doesn't comply with Ninth Circuit Law, and Above the Law is ON IT.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Abusive appeal bonds

(This post is by both Adam Schulman and Ted Frank.)

Over at Public Citizen's blog, Scott Michelman posts about the attempt by class attorneys in the Facebook Sponsored Stories settlement to impose $32,000 appeal bonds against each of the 15 appealing objectors in that case. (As you'll recall, CCAF represented objectors in this case, but chose not to appeal when the settlement was improved and the district court substantially cut attorneys' fees. The improvements made the settlement somewhat less objectionable, and given that we have limited resources and can only take on so many appeals each year, we'd rather devote them to a case where we can make more of a marginal difference than where there are fifteen other appellants.)

Michelman is correct that $32,000 is far beyond what the law allows under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 7. In multiple cases, even when the appellees violate FRAP 30 to bloat the appendix, we have yet to see a cost order greater than $3,000.  Sadly, however, this $32,000 request is not unique. In the Center's short history we have seen several attempts to abuse Rule 7, some even successful:

  • Cobell v. Salazar, 816 F. Supp. 2d 10 (D.D.C. 2011) (appeal bond request of $8.3 million denied);
  • Blessing v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc., No. 09-cv-10035-HB, 2011 WL 5873383 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 22, 2011) (appeal bond request of $200,000 denied);
  • In re MagSafe Apple Power Adapter Litig., No. C 09-01911 JW (N.D. Cal. 2012) (appeal bond request of $200,000 against each appealing objector; court orders illegal $15,000 bond on each of five appellants); currently on appeal at the Ninth Circuit; and
  • In re EasySaver Rewards Litig., No 09-cv-2094-AJB-WVG (S.D. Cal. 2013) (appeal bond request of $60,000 before the settlement had even been approved, let alone appealed!) (court issued illegal $15,000 bond); currently on appeal at the Ninth Circuit.
Unlike a criminal bond, where one can find a bondsman to post bond in exchange for a small deposit, the cheapest way to post a $15,000 bond in a civil case is to deposit $15,000 with the district court. In both MagSafe and EasySaver, that's what we did. We posted half of a $25,000 appeal bond in Dewey v. Volkswagen after the district court decided that we had a low chance of success on appeal, and got our money back over a year later when we won at the Third Circuit.

Fortunately, most judges get it right. See, e.g., the non-CCAF case In re Navistar Diesel Engine Prod. Liab. Litig. (N.D. Ill. Aug. 12, 2013).

A particularly abusive appeal bond is pending before the 10th Circuit. Two objectors appealed an abusive settlement that the district court approved over the objection of several state attorneys general, after which the district court imposed a $1 million appeal bond. Tenille v. Western Union, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130962 (D. Colo. Sept. 10, 2013); the Tenth Circuit will hear argument next week.

Michelman worries that "[such strong-arm tactics] play into the negative stereotype about class actions and class counsel." They certainly do—but the fact that class counsel so frequently engages in them show that the stereotypes have much truth. For all the plaintiffs' bar talks about "access to justice," many trial lawyers will not hesitate to run roughshod over a class member's right of appeal if they think it will short-circuit a meritorious appeal that would jeopardize an excessive fee award. Given that Fraley class counsel (who claims his time is worth $975/hour) will be expending more than $32,000 of lodestar to brief and argue the appeal bond motion (and any collateral litigation caused if the bond is granted), the motion is clearly a bad-faith attempt to improperly deter appeals, rather than a legitimate concern over recovering appellate costs.