A Pennsylvania federal judge has granted final approval of a $130 million settlement in an antitrust suit between independent truck-stop owners on one side and trucker fleet payment card company Comdata Inc. and three national truck-stop chains on the other.
U.S. District Judge James Knoll Gardner of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania also awarded $50 million in attorney fees and expenses out of the settlement proceeds to plaintiffs counsel in Marchbanks Truck Service v. Comdata Network.
The parties had reached the settlement in January, agreeing defendant Comdata would pay $100 million while $10 million apiece would come from defendant chains TravelCenters of America, Pilot Travel Centers and Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores Inc. Comdata also agreed to change some of its merchant services agreements as part of the settlement, Gardner said.
The plaintiffs had alleged in their initial complaint in 2007 antitrust violations by Comdata, whose cards allow trucking fleets to track things such as expenses, fuel use and driver location through their payment cards. In their third amended complaint filed in 2011, the plaintiffs claimed Comdata implemented a two-tier pricing system that increased transaction fees at independent truck stops while charging chain truck-stops lower fees, in part to keep those chains from developing their own fleet payment cards.
The plaintiffs argued the scheme preserved Comdata’s monopoly power in the trucker fleet card market, and allowed Comdata to impose artificially inflated fees on independent truck stops.
The plaintiffs were represented by attorneys at Berger & Montague in Philadelphia, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein out of San Francisco, and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan out of New York.
Both the motion for final settlement approval and the motion for attorney fees were unopposed.
In approving more than $43 million in attorney fees, Gardner said class counsel spent seven years on this litigation and reasonably expended 85,907 hours. That would have brought the total lodestar value for attorney fees to nearly $50 million. As one-third of the settlement amount, Gardner said the $43 million award was below the lodestar and reasonable considering the work put into the case. He also noted that the plaintiffs’ expert economist placed the total value of the settlement, including the future changes to be made by Comdata, at between $390 million and $621 million. That would mean the fee request is, at most, slightly more than 11 percent of the settlement value, Gardner said.
Gardner also awarded nearly $6.7 million in expenses to class counsel, for a total of about $50 million to class counsel.
Gardner also awarded the four lead plaintiffs service awards out of the settlement funds. Plaintiff Marchbanks Truck Service was awarded $150,000, plaintiffs Krachey’s BP South and Walt Whitman Truck Stop each were awarded $75,000 and plaintiff Mahwah Fuel Stop was awarded $15,000.
Eric L. Cramer of Berger & Montague said he was “extremely pleased with the settlement and the fact that the judge recognized the excellence of the settlement and the work of the lawyers in the case.”
Cramer noted that Comdata’s agreement not to enforce certain provisions of its merchant contracts that the plaintiffs had argued were anticompetitive will provide even greater relief to the plaintiffs than just the monetary award.
Out of a class size of about 6,000 potential members, Cramer said one-third, or a little more than 2,000, have filed claims. But those claims, he said, were from some of the larger plaintiffs and account for about two-thirds of the $130 million. Cramer said the average recovery will be more than $35,000, not including the money the plaintiffs will save in light of Comdata’s revised policies.
While all 6,000 class members received notice, Cramer said it was important to note that not one of them objected to the settlement or the award of attorney fees. In fact, four different groups of truck stop owners representing hundreds of truck stops submitted declarations supporting the award of fees and expenses, he said.
Comdata was represented in the case by counsel from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Ceridian, the parent company of Comdata, was represented by Reed Smith, and TravelCenters of America tapped Ropes & Gray and Ballard Spahr. Pilot Travel Centers turned to Telos Ventures Group and Clark Hill Thorp Reed and Love’s was advised by Crowe & Dunlevy and Cozen O’Connor.