A U.S. judge has awarded a fraction of the $15 million in attorney fees and costs that plaintiffs lawyers at Boies, Schiller & Flexner; Susman Godfrey; and Hausfeld were seeking to add onto a historic jury verdict in a price-fixing case against Chinese Vitamin C manufacturers.
In a 12-page ruling issued on Monday, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan of the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn granted $4.1 million in attorney fees and no costs. Plaintiffs lawyers sought the fees under a fee-shifting provision in federal antitrust law that allows prevailing plaintiffs to recover their attorney fees and add it to their judgment, said Boies Schiller partner William Isaacson.
Cogan credited the firms for the “high quality” of their work, saying he had no problem with their hourly rates of $375 for junior associates to $980 for senior partners. But the judge determined that all of the lawyers costs and a good chunk of their fees had already been covered by earlier settlements with codefendants.
Roughly 80 percent of the world’s Vitamin C is produced by a handful of Chinese companies. After a lengthy investigation, Isaacson brought price-fixing claims against the vitamin-producers in 2006. His co-counsel included Susman Godfrey’s James Southwick and Shawn Raymond and Hausfeld’s Brian Ratner and Brent Landau.
As the case crawled toward trial, the three law firms wrested a combined $30 million from three codefendants. The firms, which had self-financed the case, took a cut of more than $10 million from the settlements to partially cover their costs and fees.
The litigation climaxed in March 2013 with a $162 million verdict against North China Pharmaceutical Group Ltd. and a related company. (Cogan later reduced the verdict to $153 million.)
In May, plaintiffs counsel submitted a request for an additional $14 million in fees and $1.4 million in costs to be added to the judgment, which they later reduced to $13.7 million in fees and $1.36 million in costs.
In Monday’s ruling, Cogan praised Isaacson and his colleagues for their commitment to a unique, difficult case.
“To my knowledge, there is no plaintiffs’ class action firm with the capacity to deal with a case of this magnitude resident within this district,” the judge wrote.
Cogan nonetheless expressed skepticism toward the request for an additional $1.3 million in costs.
He noted that Susman Godfrey requested nearly $250,000 for travel expenses, despite already receiving $183,000 in travel costs from one of the pretrial settlements.
“Perhaps there is a good reason for these apparent inconsistencies, but plaintiffs have certainly not provided one,” the judge wrote.
Cogan offset the $13.7 million fee request with the $9.6 million plaintiffs counsel kept from the pretrial settlements. “Failing to apply an offset would amount to a windfall,” the judge wrote.
In an interview, Isaacson said, “We’re very appreciative of the judge’s compliments of our work” and Cogan’s ruling this week only concerns how much in attorney fees is added to the judgment.
The total amount plaintiffs attorneys will collect in this case is not yet determined, Isaacson said. The $153 million verdict is on appeal. If the verdict is confirmed and is not settled, plaintiffs attorneys would file a fee request for a percentage of the total class fund, Isaacson said.
Charles Critchlow of Baker & McKenzie, who represented North China Pharmaceutical, did not respond to a request for comment.
@|Jan Wolfe, a reporter for Litigation Daily, an affiliate, can be contacted at email@example.com. Law Journal reporter Christine Simmons contributed to this report.