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.).

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