Class action plaintiffs lawyers know that most judges won’t simply rubber-stamp a request for attorney fees in the wake of a big settlement, which is why fee motions always recite a familiar litany: The litigation was hard fought; the settlement was a great result for the class; the requested fees are in line with awards in similar cases; etc.
But as Legal affiliate The American Lawyer reported back in July, the usual formula didn’t cut it with the federal judge in Philadelphia overseeing nationwide price-fixing litigation related to eggs and egg products. Fifteen months after co-lead counsel for a class of direct egg purchasers asked for $7.5 million in fees for reaching a $25 million settlement with Land O’Lakes and two affiliates, U.S. District Judge Gene Pratter of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania sent the lawyers to come up with 15 categories of additional material to support their motion. The judge’s order — seeking a point-by-point accounting of billing rates and hours and details about behind-the-scenes dealmaking between the plaintiffs firms — appeared to be unprecedented in its scope, especially since there was no record of any objections to the settlement.
On September 7, the co-lead counsel firms gave their response, beginning with a 29-page brief supplementing their original motion. (The brief was submitted by Michael Hausfeld of Hausfeld LLP, Stanley Bernstein of Bernstein Liebhard, Stephen Susman of Susman Godfrey and Steven Asher of Weinstein, Kitchenoff & Asher.) The firms also filed 2,000 pages of lengthy declarations from all 35 plaintiffs firms involved in the litigation, including billing break-downs, hours worked, and years of experience for every single lawyer who worked on the case.
Besides revealing plenty of hourly rate information for partners and associates at nearly three dozen firms, the plaintiffs lawyers also sought to quell Pratter’s concerns about the status of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, which was not appointed lead counsel but played a key role in the case. Among other things, the judge wanted to know how Quinn Emanuel’s Stephen Neuwirth “actually conferred a benefit on the class,” since the co-lead counsel firms had agreed to share their fees with Quinn. In response, the firms explained that Quinn Emanuel played a crucial part not only in litigating the case day-to-day, but also in developing key theories of the defendants’ antitrust liability.
The co-lead counsel firms had also been ordered to explain any incentive agreements with their clients or side deals with other lawyers related to fees. The American Lawyer was hoping the response would reveal something about the machinations among plaintiffs firms in big antitrust cases, but the September 9 brief states that there were no incentive agreements. The firms said they do have “information regarding agreements related to referral counsel,” but they asked the judge to allow them to submit the document for in camera review.
Will the details be enough to placate Pratter? It may take a while for her and her staff to dig themselves out from under the avalanche of material to issue a ruling.
David Bario is a reporter for The American Lawyer, a Legal affiliate based in New York. This article first appeared on The Am Law Litigation Daily at www.americanlawyer.com.