Saturday, February 23, 2013

Baby Products press coverage

Lots of people are talking about Baby Products, some of whom talked to me. [Fisher @ Forbes; Legal Intelligencer; Reuters; Washington Examiner; Litigation Daily ($) (calling me "Class Action Settlement Scourge Ted Frank," which I should print up on my business cards); WSJ Law Blog ($); Star-Ledger/Bloomberg News; Debevoise; Ballard Spahr; ABA; Findlaw; Blawgletter; UCL Practitioner; Petit (who seems mad at me, but can't bring himself to accurately represent my litigation or public-policy position); Mealey's ($); Law360 ($)]

Why is Jaafar & Mahdi Law Group trying to squelch criticism of a bad class action settlement?

A class action accusing local McDonald's in Dearborn County of falsely advertising its chicken as "halal" was settled. A class member, Majed Moughni, an attorney, wrote a Facebook post complaining, inter alia:
McDonald's was going to pay $700,000 for selling "Haram" chicken sandwiches and labeling it as "Halal". The current lawyer on the case wants the the [sic] majority of the money to go to a medical center ($275,000) and a museum ($150,000), that lawyer Kassem Daklallah, wants to pocket $230,000 and the plaintiff, Ahmed Ahmed will keep $20,000. We think the money should go to you, the people who were lied to and bought and ate "Haram" chicken sandwiches, not a medical center or a museum who were not injured. ...
This seems a reasonable criticism: after all, the class is relatively small (observant Muslims who ate at the particular McDonald's restaurant), so distributing $425,000 to claimants is feasible. And, as Baby Products and the American Law Institute confirm, cy pres should be the last resort (rather than opening gambit) in a settlement. If Daklallah, his law firm, McDonald's, or their attorneys have preexisting relationships with the cy pres recipients, that would be even worse, because then the cy pres would be illusory relief. A $20,000 proposed payment to the class representative in a $0 settlement is further evidence of self-dealing.

At plaintiff's request, the Michigan state court enjoined Moughni, and forced a change to the Facebook page to put forward Ahmed's preferred view of the case. This is a scary First Amendment violation, and that the court signed off on it makes one wonder whether the court can fairly adjudicate objections to the settlement. Public Citizen is on the right side in this one, and, along with the ACLU, is litigating in favor of the objector's rights. [Public Citizen; Dan Fisher @ Forbes; Detroit Free Press]

(Of course, there are certainly strong arguments against using the consumer fraud laws to mediate a religious dispute. If the lawsuit reflects a disagreement over what constitutes "halal," courts shouldn't be adjudicating the religious question. If the lawsuit reflects an objectively false claim that a particular organization certified the food as "halal," then that's a legitimate complaint. But even if the possibly fatal flaw in the lawsuit means the settlement is necessarily small, that is no excuse for the attorneys, class representative, and unrelated third parties to capture the entirety of the value of the settlement.)

Public Citizen and the ACLU are taking no position on the fairness of the settlement, which makes sense for the strategic purpose of focusing on the First Amendment issues. Since we're not involved in the case, and will not be representing any clients in the Michigan proceedings, I hope that even the attorneys who negotiated this awful settlement will concede I have the right to speak about what I think is a breach of fiduciary duty to their clients.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Third Circuit win

We won reversal of the settlement approval in the Baby Products Antitrust Litigation, No. 12-1165 (3d Cir. Feb. 19, 2013). The settlement had paid $14M to the attorneys, but less than $3M to the class. The opinion isn't yet online, but I discuss it a bit at a post at Point of Law, which will be updated as events require.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

In re Bayer

Fewer than 20,000 class members have bothered to go through the arduous claim procedures in the Bayer Corp. class action, which caps recovery for most of those class members at $4 unless they saved several-year-old receipts for aspirin products. The class will ultimately receive well under $500,000.

But the attorneys—led by Hagens Berman—are asking for $5.1 million for themselves. The fee is supposedly justified because about $8-$9 million will end up in the hands of cy pres recipients such as the American Heart Association. Of course, Bayer already gives money to the AHA (and the AHA returns the favor by endorsing Bayer aspirin over other brands of aspirin), so this is really just a change in accounting entries rather than any sort of class benefit.

I'm a class member and I have objected through my attorney Adam Schulman of the Center for Class Action Fairness. The case is In re Bayer Corp. Combination Aspirin Prods. Mktg. & Sales Pract. Lit., No. 09-md-2023 (BMC) (E.D.N.Y.).

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Wyeth and the multiplier

Class counsel in the City of Livonia Employees' Retirement Sys. v. Wyeth case have a $3.9 million lodestar, but are seeking $16.5 million for a settlement where the class will get three cents on the dollar for their alleged damages. The Center is objecting on behalf of a client. Dan Fisher covers at Forbes in a must-read story.