Disclaimer: Please note that the content below is intended to report on class action decisions and Kroll's Settlement Administration practice may not have been involved with these cases.
Frederick v. Range Resources-Appalachia, LLC
No. 1:08-CV-288-SPB, 2023 WL 2025089 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 15, 2023) (Baxter, J.)
A class of plaintiffs holding oil and gas royalty interests brought a lawsuit against the producer, Range Resources-Appalachia, LLC, alleging improper cost deductions were made to their payments owed. The parties settled and entered into an agreement, but post-settlement actions did not conform to this agreement. After extended litigation on a Rule 60(a) motion, objections were raised by two groups of members over supplemental settlement and fee awards, which were denied and appealed. Separately, a motion for one group of objectors’ fees was also filed and the Court denied this motion.
On appeal, the Court looked to a Third Circuit precedent, which held that objectors may be entitled to fees when they improve the settlement, whether in the judicial process or as an economic benefit.
First, the Court set forth its own knowledge of the case proceedings thus far and noted that determinations at the trial court stage are to be afforded special deference under case law. The Court rejected objectors’ contentions that (1) class counsel provided inadequate representation and held a conflict of interest, (2) that there was insufficient support for the fee award, (3) that the fee award was disproportionate to the results achieved and (4) that alternatively, the objectors should be able to opt out of the supplemental settlement.
The Court found that none of these arguments had prevailed and that the objectors therefore did not substantially improve the settlement or materially affect the Court’s analysis, whereas other factors in the proceedings were far more prominent in improving the settlement.
The Court also found that the objectors’ arguments were shared by other objectors who were not themselves seeking a fee award. For this reason, the movant objectors’ involvement could not be distinguished as an independent contribution in improving the settlement.
Shuman v. SquareTrade Inc.
No. 20-cv-02725-JCS, 2023 WL 2311950 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 1, 2023) (Spero, Mag. J.)
Warranty claimants brought a lawsuit against a protection plan provider, SquareTrade Inc., alleging a failure to reimburse the total amounts owed under the plan. After parties reached a settlement, plaintiffs moved for final approval and for costs, fees and service awards. The Court granted the motions.
The Court applied the standard of review for class certification and fairness of the settlement agreement under Rule 23.
Looking first at Rules 23(a) and (b)(3), the Court briefly discussed the certification factors. Numerosity was satisfied by virtue of over 705,000 class members who had filed approximately 884,000 claims during the class period. Commonality/predominance and typicality were met by the nature of the claims falling under the same plan terms and consumer protection statutes at issue. Adequacy was met by the plaintiffs and counsel being adequate representatives and lacking any conflict of interest. Superiority was satisfied as it was unlikely that individual claims would be brought given the low amounts of potential recovery and that manageability issues were not likely.
Turning to Rule 23(e) for fairness, the Court began a review of eight factors from 9th Circuit case law. The Court found these factors satisfied, reasoning in part that the agreement was reached after extensive discovery and litigation. The Court also found that plaintiffs’ counsel believed the agreement to be fair and reasonable and that class notice had been successful, with 6% of the class filing claims. The Court cited in support of its conclusion that courts have approved settlements with significantly lower claim rates. The Court also noted in support of its conclusion that the process for filing a claim was simple and claims for damages under $35 did not require documentation.
The Court also found the relief to be proportionate to the costs and risk of trial, the method of distributing relief, the additional awards to be paid and the likelihood of success on the merits. The Court noted that both subclasses were to receive the full amount of their damages. The Court likewise found the settlement would benefit future policy purchasers in that it required the defendant to correct various processes going forward.
The Court also reviewed relevant precedent pertaining to fees and costs and ultimately found them to be reasonable and approved the amounts requested.
In re: Zoom Video Commc’n, Inc. Privacy Litig.
No. 20-cv-02155-LB, 2023 WL 2214177 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 23, 2023) (Beeler, J.)
A class of video conferencing software users brought a lawsuit against a software developer, alleging improper sharing of data due to lapses in encryption and a lack of prevention against meeting intrusions. After reaching a settlement, approval was entered over several objections. Appeals were filed and parties settled with the objectors and agreed to modify the original settlement, which modifications were approved. Objectors then moved for fees, costs and incentive awards. The Court denied these motions.
The Court reviewed whether the objectors had substantially enhanced the benefits to the class, citing Ninth Circuit case law precedent governing such awards.
Each moving objector was analyzed separately. The Court found Objector Cohen’s motion only benefited a narrow subset of the class on an insubstantial issue unlikely to be vulnerable on appeal. For Objectors Neace and Rodgers, the Court found their proposed settlement administration changes were largely already part of the parties’ plans and otherwise of a technical or coincidental nature which did not substantially benefit the class. Accordingly, no Objector was awarded fees.
Rescigno v. Statoil USA Onshore Properties Inc.
No. 3:16-85, 2023 WL 1971324 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 13, 2023) (Mannion, J.)
A class of oil and gas royalty owners filed a lawsuit against Statoil USA Onshore Properties Inc. over payments owed. After a settlement agreement was entered, objectors brought a motion for reconsideration of the agreement’s terms. The objectors claimed that the language used in the settlement agreement had created a future class that would violate principles of class definition pertaining to concrete injuries. The Court denied this motion.
The Court applied the standard of Third Circuit case law, holding that a judgment may be amended via a reconsideration motion if the moving party demonstrates a change in law, new evidence or a clear error in law or fact resulting in manifest injustice.
The Court looked extensively at the terms at issue in the agreement and compared them to other locations in the agreement that contained statements defining the settlement class more concretely. The Court found the language was sufficiently limited to current leaseholders and their successors, agents, etc..
The Court also found the objectors had failed to identify a party to the settlement that would constitute a yet to be harmed plaintiff and any future harms would be concrete amounts owed under the lease obligations due to members of the class.
Objectors had also argued that the class definition failed to describe specific lease language that could lead to relief for uninjured persons. The Court found this argument was unsupported by case or statutory law and objectors had simply fixated on one section of the agreement without taking note of the full context.
As such, the Court found objectors had not demonstrated any of the three grounds for reconsideration.