(CN) - Attorneys who snagged a $25 million settlement over an alleged conspiracy to fix the price of eggs in the United States can collect nearly $8 million, a federal judge ruled.
The fee award of $7.5 million represents 30 percent of the settlement fund approved in July by U.S. District Judge Gene Pratter. That deal requires Land O' Lakes, its subsidiary Moark LLC, and Moark subsidiary Norco Ranch to help advance the case against the other alleged co-conspirators.
Plaintiffs in the consolidated case include direct purchasers - grocery stores, food manufacturers, restaurants and other businesses that bought eggs from some of the nation's largest egg suppliers - and indirect purchasers, the individual consumers who bought eggs through other channels.
They say egg producers and trade groups engineered a supply-management conspiracy to reduce U.S. egg production and keep prices high. As part of that conspiracy, the producers allegedly coordinated the disposal of hens and exported eggs abroad at a loss.
The settlement marks a deal with direct purchasers only. Other claims remain pending. Attorneys for the direct purchasers requested $7.5 million in fees, plus more than $566,000 to cover their litigation expenses. They later reduced their expenses calculation to more than $487,000.
Garden City Group, the third party administrator of the settlement, notified class members of the requested fees and informed them how to a file an objection.
The court says no class members came forward to oppose the proposed award.
Pratter approved the motion Friday, though he shrank the expenses calculation to $434,944.79.
The 13-page memorandum accompanying the order praises the skill demonstrated by class counsel.
"Moreover, Plaintiffs' counsel appear to have reasonably divided their work between partners and other lawyers and staff," Pratter wrote. "For instance, all but two of the firms who submitted supplemental declarations directed at least some of their work to associates or staff. Additionally, the ratio of non-partner personnel who worked on the case to partners who did so is approximately 1.65:1.4. Given the complexity of this litigation and the corresponding appropriate need for and use of heavy involvement by experienced attorneys, the court finds that this ratio is reasonable, and that plaintiffs' counsel sufficiently directed work to lower-level personnel.
"Plaintiffs' counsel represent that, based on their hourly rates and hours worked, their total lodestar through the date of the final fairness hearing on the Moark settlement amounts to $11,001,332.40. In performing an independent calculation of the lodestar, the court calculates it as $10,817,088.90. The difference between these two figures is insignificant, as the lodestar of plaintiffs' counsel generates a multiplier of 0.68, while that of the court generates one of 0.69. Both multipliers indicate that the court should approve the proposed award."
In entering the $53,000 reduction, Pratter noted that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(h) allows for the award of only nontaxable costs.
"Because only nontaxable costs may be awarded to plaintiffs' counsel by rule, the court has reviewed the dozens of declarations submitted by counsel to disentangle their nontaxable and taxable costs, and to evaluate the reasonableness of their nontaxable costs," Pratter wrote. "Based on this review, the court finds that the nontaxable costs sought by plaintiffs' counsel are reasonable, and therefore awards plaintiffs' counsel $434,944.79, the amount of nontaxable costs that the court calculates counsel has accrued."
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