(CN) - A Tennessee man is not entitled to $246,000 in attorney fees for his $3,000 claim over Sears' stainless steel Kenmore dryers, the 7th Circuit ruled. "The plaintiff's effort to exalt his meager claim into a sprawling nationwide class action was a flop," Judge Richard Posner wrote.
Steven Thorogood failed to get a class action certified over the Kenmore dryers sold by Sears Roebuck, which were allegedly touted as having "stainless steel" drums, though the drums contained another material.
Under Tennessee law, he could only recover $3,000 for his individual claim. Sears offered him $20,000, including attorney fees, to settle the case.
But the district court ruled that Thorogood wasn't entitled to attorney fees and dismissed the case as moot, since the $20,000 offer exceeded the $3,000 claim.
Thorogood insisted that the $246,000 in fees was a worthwhile investment, because Sears' offer would help other buyers of "stainless steel" Kenmores, should they sue.
Judge Posner viewed the offer differently.
"The defendant's offer of $20,000 was intended to get rid of a nuisance claim," Posner explained. "The making of an offer was not a vindication of the plaintiff's theory of liability, an acknowledgement that it had some potential merit.
"Furthermore, the $246,000 in fees that the plaintiff seeks to be reimbursed for were incurred in attempting to maintain the suit as a class action; no sane person incurs fees in that amount to prosecute a claim worth at most $3,000."
Posner noted that Thorogood's bid for class certification was a "flop," and that "Sears should not have to bear the entire cost of the flop."
"The district judge did not abuse his discretion in assessing the benefit to the class that we resoundingly ordered be decertified at $0," Posner wrote.
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