by David M. Reutter
A California federal district court approved a $53 million settlement in a class action lawsuit alleging women held by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) were subjected to “highly invasive body cavity searches” from March 5, 2008 to January 1, 2015. [See: PLN, Dec 2019, p. 58.]
The court’s August 11, 2020, order came after it rejected a previous settlement agreement. The court rejected the initial settlement because “it diverted $3 million in settlement funds to contracts between the County of Los Angeles and certain for-profit and nonprofit entities to develop gender-responsive policies at LASD facilities, which the court found reduced the amount of funds available to the victims.” The new settlement eliminated the $3 million diversion in class funds.
The class consisted of 94,587 members. JND Legal Administration, the settlement administrators in the case, sent out emails, text messages, internet advertising, and notices via mail to class members. It has received almost 40,000 claims and approved 25,528. It expects to approve half of the 9,940 claims it found with deficiencies. In other words, about one-third of the class members will receive a distribution, which class counsel asserted was an especially high claims rate for this area of class action litigation.
The settlement agreement provided for $10,000 incentive awards to the lead plaintiffs, $672,185.96 in administration costs to JND, a provision for class counsel to receive up to one-third of the class settlement, and the remainder of the funds to be distributed to class members on a points-based allocation formula.
The court found class counsel provided adequate representation, that the settlement was negotiated at arm’s length, the relief to the class is adequate, and the class members were treated equitably. It also found the incentive payments were reasonable given the size of the settlement.
The court considered objections from class members, but it did not alter its view of the fairness of the agreement. It approved an opt-out requested by six class members. It also approved acceptance of late claims filed up to the court’s final approval hearing on July 20, 2020.
The court then turned to class counsel’s motion to be awarded one-third of the $53 settlement fund, which equates to $17.49 million. The court disagreed. It noted that the benchmark for percentage of a common fund in the Ninth Circuit is 25%. The court considered the factors that would allow it to exceed that benchmark.
The court found the size of the settlement is average, so it did not favor an upward adjustment in this regard. It also found the litigation was not overly complex.
The court, however, did find the class counsel took on a “significant burden in the course of litigating this case on a contingency basis for a substantial period of time” and so favored an upward adjustment in that regard.
Class counsel billed almost 9,000 hours by attorneys, paralegals, and law clerks during the course of the litigation. Counsel also submitted itemized costs of approximately $369,000. The lawsuit forced LASD to substantially change its search policies, creating a benefit that favors an upward adjustment.
Finally, the court found the market rate in the area favors a downward adjustment from the 25% benchmark. The settlement was not found to be a megafund, which may have favored an upward adjustment. Ultimately, the court found the fee award at 25% was appropriate, and it awarded class counsel $13.25 million. It also awarded $379,839.79 in costs. See: Amador v. Sheriff, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173822.
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Related legal case
Amador v. Sheriff
|Cite||2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173822|