Posts Tagged ‘cy pres’

Ted Frank argues at SCOTUS

“Mr. Frank [former Overlawyered blogger Ted Frank] argued his own case on Wednesday, a rarity in the Supreme Court, and he exhibited comprehensive knowledge of the law and an only occasionally halting style.” [Adam Liptak, New York Times] The transcript of oral argument, in which several Justices expressed doubt that the lower court had adequately pinned down standing issues, is here. More on Frank v. Gaos and the cy pres issues it raises: Richard Wolf/USA Today, Daniel Fisher, Jim Copland, SCOTUSBlog, Federalist Society SCOTUSBrief video; earlier here, etc.

Ted Frank to argue cy pres at the Supreme Court

Congratulations to Ted Frank, profiled Oct. 15 by Adam Liptak at the New York Times for arguing his own case (Frank v. Gaos, on class action settlements) before the U.S. Supreme Court. The article does not mention one of Ted’s most salient public roles, namely co-blogging for years as my most inspired recruit at Overlawyered and at Point of Law.

Frank v. Gaos is a challenge to the cy pres elements of a privacy class action against Google [Federalist Society podcast with Ted, NLJ via CEI]. Ilya Shapiro at Cato (which has filed an amicus brief) describes some of the factual background:

Attorneys’ fees of $2.125 million were awarded out of the settlement fund, amounting to 25 percent of the fund and more than double the amount estimated based on class counsel’s actual hours worked.

But no class members other than the named plaintiffs received any money! Instead, the remainder of the settlement fund was awarded to six organizations that “promote public awareness and education, and/or…support research, development, and initiatives, related to protecting privacy on the Internet.” Three of the recipients were alma maters of class counsel.

This diversion of settlement money from the victims to causes chosen by the lawyers is referred to as cy pres. “Cy pres” means “as near as possible,” and courts have typically used the cy pres doctrine to reform the terms of a charitable trust when the stated objective of the trust is impractical or unworkable. The use of cy pres in class action settlements—particularly those that enable the defendant to control the funds—is an emerging trend that violates the due process and free speech rights of class members.

James Beck at Drug and Device Law writes that the settlement in question “features just about everything we don’t like about cy pres.” Quoting:

  • Excessive counsel fees – class counsel stands to walk away with fully 38% of the settlement as fees. 869 F.3d at 747.
  • Lack of classwide recovery – the court declared the entire settlement “non-distributable” because, even without opposition, neither the class members nor their damages could be determined. Id. at 742.
  • Excessive cy pres – nothing is more excessive than 100% ? six uninjured charities took 100% of what class counsel left behind, and the 129 million supposedly injured class members took nothing. Id. at 743.
  • Rampant conflict of interest? Three of the charities were law schools – and they all had ties to counsel in the case.
    Litigation industry self-perpetuation – cy pres recipients were expected solicit more lawsuits by “educat[ing]” the public and “publiciz[ing]” privacy issues. Id. at 746-47.

Oral argument before the Court will be held Oct. 31.

Liability roundup

Supreme Court takes Ted Frank’s Google cy pres case

The Supreme Court has agreed to review Frank v. Gaos, a case in which Ted Frank is objecting to a Google class action settlement. [Barbara Leonard, Courthouse News; Kieren McCarthy, The Register (U.K.)] From the latter piece:

Of the $8.5m that Google has agreed to pay out, not a single cent will go to the actual users whose privacy was violated. It will instead go to the lawyers that brought the case on behalf of those users ($2.125m, no less) and a group of seven organizations that the lawyers, along with Google executives, decided should become “cy pres” recipients.

Those recipients have been controversial from the moment they were named: three of them are law schools, and just so happen to be the same law schools that the lead lawyers went to; and the remaining four are organizations that Google has repeatedly given money to, in large part because they share the same values and goals as Google itself….

His position is quite clear: the use of cy pres – pronounced, fittingly, “sigh, pray” – should be a last resort, and if used, there should be no conflict of interests or even the appearance of a conflict, for those involved in drawing up the list for who gets the money.

Dubious use of cy pres has been a regular topic here at Overlawyered, even before the years when Ted blogged here:

Anthem data breach class action, cont’d — and a cy pres opportunity

“When you add up all the legal fees and costs, the lawyers would come out of the settlement with more money than the class members they represented. The payout to all the lawyers involved would be about $63 million.” More details on the Anthem data breach case discussed earlier here, and Ted Frank’s role in calling it into question [Bob Dorigo Jones]

Also, for those with access, Ted has written a piece for the Wall Street Journal on the need to rein in abuse of the cy pres doctrine in disbursing lawsuit proceeds, with a suitable vehicle on the horizon:

A bipartisan coalition of 16 state attorneys general is also urging the Supreme Court to hear Frank v. Gaos. They agree that the Ninth Circuit has created a standard that will make it far too easy for attorneys to siphon millions of dollars of consumers’ money into their own slush funds. Chief Justice John Roberts has previously expressed concern about cy pres abuses. We hope the Supreme Court will protect consumers who take part in class actions from being preyed upon by their attorneys.

Liability roundup

CCAF contests $8.5 million Google privacy settlement

It’s a cy pres special: members of the injured class will get no part of an $8.5 million settlement Google negotiated with plaintiff’s lawyers over a data privacy lapse. “Instead, the money is to be split among the plaintiffs’ attorneys, who billed their time at $1,000 an hour, and others. The others are cy pres recipients, or organizations that are not parties in the suit: Carnegie Mellon University; World Privacy Forum; the Center for Information, Society and Policy at the Chicago-Kent College of Law; Stanford Center for Internet and Society; Harvard University’s Berkman Center; and AARP Inc.” Ted Frank’s Center for Class Action Fairness is asking the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari after its objections were turned down by lower courts. [Dee Thompson, Legal NewsLine, earlier here and here (Beck: “cy pres abuse poster child”)]

Plus: Bank of America settlement will now yield cy pres windfall for five University of California law schools of $150,000 rather than $20 million. Easy come, easy go? [ABA Journal]

Class action roundup

Liability roundup

Judge Janice Brown on cy pres, cont’d

In the D.C. Circuit case of Keepseagle v. Perdue, mentioned in this space last month, Judge Janice Rogers Brown had some choice words regarding the constitutional status of class-action slush funds arising from the settlement of a suit against the federal government on behalf of Native Americans claiming discrimination against them by the Department of Agriculture:

$380,000,000 is, to use the late Senator Dirksen’s wry phrase, “real money.” That is what has been left on the table for private disbursement in this case. Perhaps one day, I will possess my colleagues’ schadenfreude toward the Executive Branch raiding hundreds-of-millions of taxpayer dollars out of the Treasury, putting them into a slush fund disguised as a settlement, and then doling the money out to whatever constituency the Executive wants bankrolled. But, that day is not today….

The Executive Branch may wish to favor certain interests on the taxpayer’s dime. It may wish to use the Judicial Branch’s enforcement of settlement agreements to avoid asking Congress for an appropriation. But the Constitution’s design gives the People’s elected representatives a means to thwart these “overgrown prerogatives.” . . . By limiting the “judicial Power” to resolving “Cases” and “Controversies,” . . . the Constitution ensures the Judicial Branch has “no influence over . . . the purse.” . . . Expenditures toward the fulfilment of public policy are integral to policymaking itself, and policymaking is left to the legislature. . . . In short, congressional control over the People’s purse is a structural limit on both the Executive and Judicial Branches.

Alas, the analysis came in a dissent. Mark Pulliam writes up the case at Liberty and Law.