Litigation over whether Capital One and its affiliates violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act settled for $75.5 million—about $4 for each of the 17.5 million class members who allegedly had a statutory claim for $500 or more. Six law firms asked for 30% of that, or over $22.6 million. We objected on behalf of a class member, Jeffrey Collins, introducing evidence showing that something more in the 4.6% range would more than fully compensate class counsel for the risk they incurred. The district court did not adopt our arguments, but agreed with us that there should be a declining percentage as the fund grew larger, and awarded “only” $15,668,265. That’s for 4,268 hours of work by six law firms, including associates and paralegals, or over $3,671/hour. Other TCPA cases have awarded over $5,000/hour for similarly mediocre results.
This award is not because the underlying TCPA action was extraordinarily risky: the evidence showed that class counsel won settlements in 16 out of 38 TCPA class actions over the last four years and collected handsome fees for 64% of the hours they devoted to TCPA litigation. Moreover, the court found only that this case was “slightly” more risky than typical TCPA litigation. Nor did it reflect extraordinary litigation efforts: the case settled immediately after the filing of the MDL complaint. Nor did it reflect above-average efficiency: six firms claimed a right to fees, though only three had been appointed in the district court’s original Rule 23(g) order, and the lodestar was substantially higher than in other TCPA cases. Nor is this an extraordinary settlement: as mentioned, class members’ multiple $500 statutory claims were settled for about $4/class member before attorneys’ fees.
We do not contend that a court can never award such a generous hourly rate. But the Seventh Circuit has “held repeatedly that, when deciding on appropriate fee levels in common-fund cases, courts must do their best to award counsel the market price for legal services, in light of the risk of nonpayment and the normal rate of compensation in the market at the time.” We do not believe a sophisticated arms-length transaction would produce this sort of windfall for these sorts of results, and we have appealed, filing our opening brief Monday.
The case presents another interesting issue: can class counsel agree not to compete for lead-counsel status, and then divvy up a lump-sum fee request in a secret side agreement without approval or review of the court and the class? We think Rule 23(h) and Rule 23(e)(3) do not permit that.