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Federal judge in California once again approves $310 million settlement in Apple throttling case

The consolidated class action resolves a dispute over software updates that consumers said caused their phones to slow down.

(CN) — A federal court in California approved, for a second time, a $310 million class action settlement in a case against Apple concerning battery defects and the company’s throttling of certain iPhone models. 

The case stems from reports beginning in 2015 that certain Apple phones were unexpectedly shutting down even when batteries were more than 30% charged. The company said a performance management feature in its iOS 10.2.1 and iOS 11.2 software was designed to prevent unexpected shutdowns and “prolong the life of older iPhone devices.”

The class in the consolidated action — composed of plaintiffs from dozens of federal lawsuits — said this feature caused their iPhone 6s and 7s to unexpectedly slow down and that Apple never asked them for authorization to diminish the performance of their devices. 

In whole, the consolidated complaint brought 76 claims against Apple, including breach of contract, trespass to chattels, violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and other fraud-based theories among others — although many of the claims did not survive dismissal motions. 

In 2021, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila in the Northern District of California granted final approval to the multimillion-dollar settlement, but a Ninth Circuit panel vacated Davila’s order.

“While we commend the district court’s thoughtful and thorough analysis, which suggests that the court took great care in considering the terms of the settlement, its written order explicitly states that the court applied a presumption that the settlement was fair and reasonable,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, a Barack Obama appointee, wrote. 

Siding with three settlement objectors — referred to as the “Feldman objectors” — Nguyen explained that, when a settlement precedes class certification, a “higher level of scrutiny” is required. 

“Here, while the district court’s probing analysis suggested that it may have applied heightened scrutiny, its written order relied on a flawed legal standard,” Nguyen wrote. “The district court abused its discretion by stating that it applied a presumption of reasonableness and fairness to the settlement.”

In his latest order, Davila, also an Obama appointee, said the settlement is fair due to the strength of the plaintiff’s case; the extent of discovery; the risk, expense, complexity and likely duration of more litigation; the risk of maintaining class action status throughout the trial; the reasonableness of the amount offered in the settlement; the experience and views of counsel; and the reaction of class members. 

Furthermore, noting the Ninth Circuit advised him to be especially vigilant about any “subtle signs” of collusion, Davila said there is no evidence of any collusion between the class counsel and Apple, and noted that the settlement was reached “only after extensive arm’s-length negotiations between experienced counsel, including several in-person mediation sessions and additional negotiations facilitated by” independent mediator and former U.S. District Judge Layn Phillips.

“After reviewing all required factors under the correct standard of heightened scrutiny, the Court is satisfied that the Settlement was not the result of collusion between the parties and finds the Settlement Agreement to be fair, reasonable, and adequate, and certification of the Settlement Class as defined therein to be proper,” Davila wrote. 

Davila awarded class counsel more than $80 million in attorney fees.

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