More than 100,000 people on the “Do Not Call” list will receive a nice sum from an insurance company that allegedly spammed their landlines.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke on Wednesday gave final approval to a nearly $9.8 million class action settlement in a Telephone Consumer Protection Act case filed in Miami. Class members are set to receive at least $55 each from ACE USA Inc. and ACE American Insurance Co., according to the settlement agreement.
“I’d say per person, it was an above-average payout for the class,” said Houston plaintiffs lawyer W. Craft Hughes, who filed the case with his Hughes Ellzey law partner, Jarrett Ellzey. “Our claim rate in this settlement was definitely above average compared to normal class settlements. Our claim rate was above 10 percent. Most class settlements are [about] 5.”
The class is limited to people on the “Do Not Call” list who were customers of Nationstar Mortgage or BB&T Bank. The mortgage lenders were not defendants, but they allegedly provided Philadelphia-based ACE with lists of mortgage holders who were then targeted with marketing calls pitching hazard insurance.
Cooke approved attorney fees of $2.9 million and costs of $150,000 for Hughes Ellzey, along with a $10,000 award for lead plaintiff Justin Boise, a Hialeah resident.
The TCPA has garnered large settlements in recent years from companies such as Capital One, JPMorgan Chase and AT&T. Defense lawyers joked to the Wall Street Journal this year that the law should be called “Total Cash for Plaintiffs Attorneys.”
“I’d say there’s some uncertainty in the law and I’m probably not alone in thinking that maybe someday there won’t be as many of these TCPA lawsuits,” Hughes said. “Maybe because companies will start to comply.”
TCPA litigation may look very different after a decision from the D.C. Circuit Court in the ACA International case, which challenged the Federal Communications Commission to clarify rules it issued regulating auto-dialing and other telemarketing practices.
“When that opinion comes out, that will clarify a lot of points of dissent that defense lawyers are using to defend these cases,” Hughes said.
In the ACE case, plaintiffs lawyers published notice of the settlement in USA Today and People magazine, along with direct mail and a website that accepted electronic claims. More than 107,000 claims came in, but funds could be left over if some class members fail to cash their checks.
If that happens, all the attorneys involved want the money to go to rebuilding the areas damaged by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Hughes Ellzey and co-counsel Benjamin Crumley of Crumley Law Firm in Jacksonville, along with ACE’s lawyers Marlin Green of Brown Sims in Miami and Archis Parasharami and Matthew Ingber of Mayer Brown in Washington, filed a joint proposal for the cy pres designation.
“It just kind of made sense to us after everything that’s happened in the last couple months,” Hughes said. “My law firm’s in Houston and this lawsuit was filed in Miami, and so the defense counsel and I just thought we would propose Habitat for Humanity to benefit victims of both hurricanes.”
Green did not immediately respond to a request for comment.