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.