Alison Frankel recently asked whether it’s the end of “money-for-nothing” class actions; Ronald Barusch asks a similar question. The Center for Class Action Fairness is putting that question to the test in In re Johnson & Johnson Shareholder Derivative Litigation by asking the District of New Jersey to dismiss shareholder litigation that makes cosmetic changes to corporate governance, and then presents a $10.45 million bill to shareholders—150% of the already high “lodestar”—for the involuntary consulting arrangement. As in Robert F. Booth Trust v. Crowley, the suit “serves no goal other than to move money from the corporate treasury to the attorneys’ coffers…. It is an abuse of the legal system to cram unnecessary litigation down the throats of firms … and then use the high costs … to extort settlements (including undeserved attorneys’ fees) from the targets.” As I noted then:
Under FRCP 23.1(a) and its state-law equivalents, a shareholder derivative suit isn’t supposed to proceed unless the shareholders bringing the suit adequately represent the shareholders. If the suit is meant to profit the plaintiffs’ lawyers at the expense of the corporation (and thus the shareholders), how can the bringers of a strike suit be adequate representatives of the shareholders? I’ve thus argued that the correct role for courts in such situations is to throw these cases out entirely (or approve the settlement but award only a token amount in attorneys’ fees).
Good coverage at Forbes.com (noting that the lawsuits themselves are free-ride piggybacking off of J&J self-disclosure and government investigations) and Reuters (quoting plaintiffs’ lawyers calling the motion “frivolous”).