BP Oil Spill Litigation: The Compensation Paid to MDL 2179 Plaintiffs’ Attorneys is Excessive
BP Oil Spill Litigation: The Compensation Paid to MDL 2179 Plaintiffs’ Attorneys is Excessive
In Order to be Awarded a Common Benefit Fee of $600 million
the MDL 2179 Honorable Court Would Have to Believe that
the PSC Attorneys Worked Two Million Hours
Tampa, FL (July 26, 2013) – The question is whether the BP Oil Spill Settlement grants excessive compensation to the PSC and other counsel performing common benefit work in MDL 2179. This issue can be determined by a simple two-prong comparison test: First, by comparing the common benefit fees received by attorneys in MDL 2179 with the average total payment amount received by the claimants; and Second, by comparing the common benefit fees received by attorneys in MDL 2179 with the common benefit fees received by attorneys in comparable MDLs.
(a) The Average Total Payment Amount Received From GCCF by Claimants
GCCF Overall Program Statistics (Status Report as of March 7, 2012)
Total Amount Paid = $6,079,922,450.47
Total No. of Paid Claimants = 221,358
Average Total Amount Paid Per Claimant = $27,466.47
The GCCF data indicates that a total of 574,379 unique claimants filed claims with the GCCF during the period from approximately August 23, 2010 to March 7, 2012. The GCCF paid only 221,358 of these Claimants. In sum, the GCCF denied approximately 61.46% of the claimants who filed claims. See “Gulf Coast Claims Facility Overall Program Statistics” (Status Report, Mar. 7, 2012).
On March 8, 2012, this Honorable Court terminated the GCCF claims process and appointed Patrick Juneau as the Claims Administrator of the Transition Process and the proposed Court Supervised Claims Program (“CSCP”). On May 2, 2012, Patrick Juneau was appointed as Claims Administrator to oversee the Claims Administration Vendors, who will process the claims in accordance with the Proposed Settlement. Under the CSCP, the evaluation and processing of claims shall continue to be performed by Garden City Group, Inc., BrownGreer, PLC, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP. Accordingly, there is no reason to believe that the percentage of claimants denied payment and the average total amount paid per claimant will change under the CSCP.
(b) The Common Benefit Fees Received by Attorneys in Comparable MDLs
In order to determine an appropriate common benefit fee, this Court looks to comparable MDL set-aside assessments and awards of common benefit fees. E.g., In re Diet Drugs Prods. Liab. Litig., 553 F. Supp. 2d at 442, 457-58, 491-96 (E.D. Pa. 2008) (describing 9% federal and 6% state assessments later reduced to 6% and 4%, respectively; awarding less than total fund created by assessments); In re Zyprexa, 467 F. Supp. 2d at 261-63 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 17, 2007)(1% and 3% of separate settlement amounts); In re Sulzer Hip Prosthesis & Knee Prosthesis Liab. Litig., 268 F. Supp. 2d at 907, 909, 919 n.19 (N.D. Ohio 2003) (awarding common benefit fees out of $50,000,000 fund created through assessment representing 4.8% of settlement value);
In re Protegen Sling & Vesica Sys. Prods. Liab. Litig., MDL No. 1387, 2002 WL 31834446, at *1, *3 (D. Md. Apr. 12, 2002) (9% federal, 6% coordinated state assessments); In re Rezulin Prods. Liab. Litig., MDL No. 1348, 2002 WL 441342, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 20, 2002) (6% withholding in federal cases, 4% in participating state cases); See also William B. Rubenstein, On What a “Common Benefit Fee” Is, Is Not, and Should Be, 3 Class Action Att’y Fee Dig. at 87 (2009) (collecting cases and concluding that most common benefit assessments range from 4% to 6%); 4 Alba Conte & Herbert B. Newberg, Newberg on Class Actions § 14:9 (4th ed. 2002) (“Most [MDL] courts have assessed common benefit fees at about a 4-6% level, generally 4% for a fee and 2% for costs.”); Paul D. Rheingold, Litigating Mass Tort Cases § 7:35 (2010) (“[P]ercentages awarded for common funds in recent MDLS … were in the 4-6% range.”) (citation omitted). In re Vioxx Prods. Liab. Litig., 760 F. Supp. 2d 640 (E.D. La. 2010) (“October 19, 2010 Order and Reasons”).
The Court’s analysis in the Vioxx MDL case is instructive. In re Vioxx Prods. Liab. Litig. (“MDL 1657”) involves the prescription drug Vioxx. Merck, a New Jersey corporation, researched, designed, manufactured, marketed and distributed Vioxx to relieve pain and inflammation resulting from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, menstrual pain, and migraine headaches. On September 20, 2004, Merck withdrew it from the market after data indicated that the use of Vioxx increased the risk of cardiovascular thrombotic events such as myocardial infarction (heart attack) and ischemic stroke. Thereafter, thousands of individual suits and numerous class actions were filed against Merck in state and federal courts throughout the country.
On February 16, 2005, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“MDL”) conferred MDL status on Vioxx lawsuits filed in various federal courts throughout the country and transferred all such cases to this Court to coordinate discovery and to consolidate pretrial matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407. See In re Vioxx Prods. Liab. Litig., 360 F. Supp. 2d 1352 (J.P.M.L. 2005).
On November 9, 2007, Merck and the NPC formally announced that they had reached a Settlement Agreement. The private Settlement Agreement established a pre-funded program for resolving pending or tolled state and federal Vioxx claims against Merck as of the date of the settlement, involving claims of heart attack (“MI”), ischemic stroke (“IS”), and sudden cardiac death (“SCD”), for an overall amount of $4.85 billion.
In Vioxx, Judge Fallon stated, “The Settlement Agreement created a $4.85 billion fund for the compensation of Vioxx claimants. The Court finds no reason to omit any portion of that settlement fund from consideration with respect to the reasonable amount of common benefit fees. Accordingly, $4.85 billion is the appropriate amount for calculation of a reasonable percentage of common benefit fees.”
The Vioxx Court awarded a common benefit fee of $315,250,000, which is equivalent to 6.5% of $4,850,000,000. In Vioxx, unlike MDL 2179, the attorneys came from states across the country. Accordingly, the Court found that an average hourly billable rate of $443.29 was reasonable.
There are significant two differences between MDL 1657 and MDL 2179:
(i) The Time and Labor Required
The PSC and other counsel performing common benefit work in MDL 1657 documented and submitted over 560,000 hours of work during the course of this litigation. The PSC operated on many fronts, preparing pleadings and Master Class Action complaints, taking over 2,000 depositions, reviewing and compiling over 50,000,000 documents, briefing and arguing over 1,000 discovery motions, assembling a trial package, conducting bellwether trials, negotiating the global Settlement Agreement, and implementing the payout under the Agreement.
In contrast, “In the 20 months that have passed since the JPML’s centralization order, the parties [in MDL 2179] have engaged in extensive discovery and motion practice, including taking 311 depositions, producing approximately 90 million pages of documents, and exchanging more than 80 expert reports on an intense and demanding schedule……..BP and the PSC report that in February 2011 settlement negotiations began in earnest for two distinct class action settlements: a Medical Benefits Settlement and an Economic and Property Damages Settlement.”
In sum, the PSC and other counsel allegedly performing common benefit work in MDL 2179 only took 311 depositions and initiated settlement negotiations “in earnest” merely six (6) months after the JPML created MDL 2179.
The MDL 1657 Court conducted six Vioxx bellwether trials. During the same period that this Court was conducting six bellwether trials, approximately thirteen additional Vioxx-related cases were tried before juries in various state courts.
The MDL 2179 Court did not conduct a single bellwether trial.
(ii) The Results Obtained
Attorneys doing common benefit work on behalf of Vioxx users in MDL 1657 achieved a favorable and meaningful global resolution. The Settlement Agreement ensured fair and comprehensive compensation to all qualified participants. In only 31 months, the parties to the Vioxx case were able to reach a global settlement and distribute $4,353,152,064 to 32,886 claimants, out of a pool of 49,893 eligible and enrolled claimants.
In contrast, attorneys doing common benefit work on behalf of BP oil spill victims in MDL 2179 did not remotely achieve “a favorable and meaningful global resolution.” The MDL 2179 Proposed Settlement does not ensure fair and comprehensive compensation to all qualified participants.
Average Total Amount Paid Per Claimant in MDL 1657 = $132,370.98 Average Total Amount Paid Per Claimant in MDL 2179 = $ 27,466.47
(c) The Common Benefit Fees Received by Attorneys in MDL 2179
The PSC and other counsel allegedly performing common benefit work in MDL 2179 are not double-dipping; they are triple-dipping.
The known sources of compensation received by attorneys allegedly doing common benefit work on behalf of BP oil spill victims in MDL 2179 are:
(a) Six percent (6%) of the gross monetary settlements, judgments or other payments made on or after December 30, 2011 through June 3, 2012 to any other plaintiff or claimant-in-limitation;
(b) BP has agreed to pay any award for common benefit and/or Rule 23(h) attorneys’ fees, as determined by the Court, up to $600 million;
(c) Many attorneys doing common benefit work have their own clients and have also received or will also receive a fee directly from them. (N.B. – On June 15, 2012, the MDL 2179 Court ordered that “contingent fee arrangements for all attorneys representing claimants/plaintiffs that settle claims through either or both of the Settlements will be capped at 25% plus reasonable costs.”); and
(d) Co-counsel fees received by member firms of the PSC for serving as co-counsel to non-member firms of the PSC. For example, on March 13, 2012, Counsel for Plaintiff Salvesen received an unsolicited mass email from a member firm of the PSC. The email stated, “Co-Counsel Opportunity for BP Oil Spill Cases: News of the recent BP Settlement has caused many individuals and businesses along the Gulf Coast to contemplate either filing a new claim or amending a claim that has already been submitted. If you receive inquiries of this nature we would like you to consider a co-counsel relationship with our firm. Even if someone has already filed a claim it is advisable to retain legal counsel to analyze the impact of this settlement on claimants and maximize recovery. If you receive inquiries and are interested in co-counseling with us on the BP claims, please email…”
Over the years courts have employed various methods to determine the reasonableness of an award of attorneys’ fees. These methods include the “lodestar” method, which entails multiplying the reasonable hours expended on the litigation by an adjusted reasonable hourly rate, Copper Liquor, Inc. v. Adolph Coors Co., 624 F.2d 575, 583 & n.15 (5th Cir. 1980); the percentage method, in which the Court compensates attorneys who recovered some identifiable sum by awarding them a fraction of that sum; or, more recently, a combination of both methods in which a percentage is awarded and checked for reasonableness by use of the lodestar method.
(i) The Percentage Method
As noted above, “percentages awarded for common funds in recent MDLS … were in the 4-6% range.” Given that the PSC and other counsel allegedly performing common benefit work in MDL 2179 only took 311 depositions and initiated settlement negotiations “in earnest” merely six (6) months after the JPML created MDL 2179, the appropriate percentage should be no greater than 4%.
BP has estimated the cost of the proposed settlement to be approximately $7.8 billion. A 4% award would yield $312 million for common funds.
(ii) The Lodestar Cross-Check
The lodestar analysis is not undertaken to calculate a specific fee, but only to provide a broad cross check on the reasonableness of the fee arrived at by the percentage method.
This Court has previously used a range of $300 to $400 per hour for members of a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee and $100 to $200 per hour for associates to “reasonably reflect the prevailing [billable time] rates in this jurisdiction.” Turner v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., 472 F. Supp. 2d at 868-69 (E.D. La. 2007).
Average Amount Awarded = $312,000,000.00
Billable Hourly Rate = $300/hr.
Hours Required to Have Been Expended on This Litigation = 1,040,000 hours
Average Amount Awarded = $600,000,000.00
Billable Hourly Rate = $300/hr.
Hours Required to Have Been Expended on This Litigation = 2,000,000 hours
In sum, in order to be awarded a common benefit fee of $312 million, the MDL 2179 Honorable Court would have to believe that the PSC attorneys worked more than one million hours; in order to be awarded a common benefit fee of $600 million, the MDL 2179 Honorable Court would have to believe that the PSC attorneys worked two million hours. Both of these fee amounts, which do not include the aforementioned (a), (c), and (d) known sources of compensation, fail the reasonableness test.