Collection Call Case Nets Attorneys $1.25M in Fees

     (CN) – A federal judge in Orlando, Florida awarded $1.25 million in attorney’s fees following the settlement of a class action against a student loan servicing company.
     The fee award represents 27.78 percent of the gross settlement fund of $4.5 million, and was accompanied by the final dismissal — with prejudice — of a complaint filed in February 2014.
     In his complaint, lead plaintiff James David Cooper Jr. claimed NelNet Inc., repeatedly placed pre-recorded voice calls to his cell phone while attempting to collect an alleged debt.
     Cooper argued the calls were a direct contravention of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, because he did not consent to them, and in fact, were related to a debt incurred by someone other than himself.
     NelNet denied the allegations, but in June 2015, after an exchange of “robust” discovery, production of thousands of pages and documents, and a full day of mediation, nevertheless agreed to settle the case.
     A total of 2,526 individuals submitted class action claim forms, and under the agreement, each will receive at least $150.
     Cooper himself was also granted a $25,000 “incentive” award for his role in pursuing the case.
     NelNet also agreed to implement a new, enhanced training regime for its employees. Attorneys then submitted a request for $1.5 million in fees, which U.S. District Judge Roy Dalton Jr. felt compelled to reduce on August 4.
     Dalton explained he did so for a number of reasons, not least of which was the relatively short amount of time the case was actually pending.
     “The docket reflects that the progress of the case has been unremarkable with little to no substantive motion practice beyond the TCPA constitutional issue, which was mooted by settlement,” Dalton wrote.
     At the same time, the judge said, he was mindful not to reduce the fees too much, acknowledging that it is not easy for consumers to obtain counsel in Telephone Consumer Protection Act cases, given the law is relatively new and the cases often handled on a contingency basis.
     “Additionally, Class Counsel obtained significant benefits for the class … “Dalton wrote. “Moreover, the Agreement, including the negotiation of the attorneys’ fees, was reached in mediation with a skilled mediator. Thus, there is a presumption that the Agreement is fair, negotiated at arm’s length and without collusion.”
     “Importantly, there were no objections to the Agreement or even to the fees requested by counsel,” he added.
     Representatives could not be reached for comment by Courthouse News.

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