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Archive for July, 2012

My apologies for the late notice (I’ve been on vacation), but I’ll be speaking at a Webinar on class action notice requirements tomorrow, and it’s not too late to sign up.  The panel also includes Winston & Strawn Partner Matthew Walsh and notice expert (and occasional contributor to this blog) Shannon Wheatman.  Here’s a brief description of the program: 

Attorneys’ options for delivering notice of class actions and settlements to members have increased, even as they must adhere to more stringent standards to ensure due process. Courts are more receptive to notice in forms like email, websites, postcards and ordinary course mailings.

Even as delivery methods evolve, the words themselves remain a vital consideration for attorneys. Recent F.R.C.P. Rule 23 revisions require notices be drafted in plain and simple language. Attorneys are often not meeting the plain language standard, which can potentially jeopardize judicial review.

Defendants are obliged to comply with increased notice requirements under the Class Action Fairness Act. Failure to provide notice of a class action settlement to federal and state regulators can also lead to opt-outs by class members.

Listen as our panel of experienced litigators examines the vital notice requirements affecting due process in class actions. The panel will review email and other nontraditional means of delivering notice to members, explain avoidable mistakes that compromise meeting the plain language requirement, and discuss defendants’ need to provide proper notice of settlements.

For more information and to register for the program, visit the program page on Strafford’s website.

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Editor’s Note: I don’t often use this blog as a platform to brag about my firm, but I thought a recent success by my partner, Bob Abrams, and his cross-office antitrust team in Washington, DC and Los Angeles, was noteworthy.  Abrams’ group came over to Baker Hostetler last year from Howrey, and they have been a fantastic addition to our class action practice, adding depth and expertise in the antitrust area.  Congratulations to the team on achieving a great result.

Baker Hostetler represents a certified class of dairy farmers located in 14 Southeastern States against Dairy Farmers of America, Dean Foods and a number of other defendants in an action alleging violations of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.  The lawsuit alleges that Defendants and alleged Co-Conspirators violated federal antitrust laws and as a result prices paid to dairy farmers were lower than they otherwise would have been.

After recently approving antitrust class settlements with Dean Foods and two other defendants worth $145 million and significant structural relief, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee granted in its entirety Baker Hostetler’s motion for fees and expenses, noting “the quality of the work done by class counsel has been exceptional, not only with respect to the pleadings filed but also the oral advocacy during oral argument on various motions.” 

In commenting on the wide-scale complex litigation led by Baker Hostetler partner Bob Abrams and his team, the Court noted:

Class counsel, who have extensive experience in complex class action litigation, have efficiently and competently managed their enormous task and have vigorously and effectively, prosecuted the case on behalf of the class. They have also been opposed by equally experienced and highly competent counsel for defendants and have achieved an excellent result for their clients.

Baker Hostetler continues to litigate against non-settling defendant Dairy Farmers of America and others, and trial in the matter is set for November 6, 2012.

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Anyone who is a regular reader of the blawgosphere will be familiar with Mark Herrmann, former contributor to the Drug and Device Law blog (which is still capably run by Jim Beck) and current contributor to a regular column on Above the Law entitled Inside Straight.  Herrmann’s work on that column attracted the attention of ABA Publishing, which collected many of Herrmann’s Inside Straight columns in a single bound volume, aptly titled Inside Straight.  So, essentially you now have the privilege of paying $24.95 for something that you could get for free, legally, on the Internet.  Why, you ask, should you do it?  Within about one hour of having received an advance copy of the book, one of my partners absconded with it, and I haven’t seen it since.  That might be a clue as to its value.

The subtitle of the book, Advice about Lawyering, In-House and Out, That Only the Internet Could Provide fairly sums up its subject matter.  It’s a book about the stuff that you don’t learn in law school (sorry to have to break the news to all those law schools out there touting their “experiential learning” curricula), like how to impress partners and clients.  Plus, the book is organized in a way that preserves the user comments from the original ATL posts, so it offers additional interactive content that only the Internet could have provided. 

Herrmann’s book, and the column more generally (he’s still writing it), are an extremely useful resource for helping to answer questions of associates and young partners about the often murky dynamics of life in a big law firm, both in terms of dealing with other lawyers within the firm and in dealing with the in-house lawyers who tend to be our clients.  I’ve been able to point lawyers to his column several times just in the last few weeks in answering a question about why I think an issue should be approached a particular way.  Just this past Friday, I pointed an associate to Herrmann’s most recent column, discussing the need to provide actual legal advice rather than simply referring a client or partner to the source, in trying to explain my criticisms of portions of a legal memo.  Unlike that conversation (for the associate at least), Herrmann’s column has the advantage of being engaging and funny, which actually makes it even more useful since it makes it more likely that the advice will sink in!

In short, I would encourage everyone to shell out the mere $24.95 it takes to get Herrmann’s insights in a glossy bound volume.   At minimum, give his ATL column a try.  If you do, it’ll be hard to resist ordering a copy of the book too.

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For those who practice in the area of insurance-related class actions, I highly recommend an article posted yesterday by Robinson and Cole Partner Wystan Ackerman, who is the primary contributor to his firm’s Insurance Class Actions Insider blog.  The article, Standing to Sue in Insurance Class Action Addressed By Second Circuit, summarizes the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision late last month in Mahon v. Ticor Title Ins. Co., No. 10-3005-cv, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 12947 (2d Cir. Jun. 25, 2012), which held that the “juridical link” doctrine could not be used to give a plaintiff who bought insurance from one insurance company standing to represent a class of insureds who purchased policies from the defendant’s sister companies.

The Mahon decision is an important development in the area of insurance class action law.  Insurance companies are commonly organized into holding company systems.  (The primary reason for this is not to make it more difficult to sue them, but rather so that they can comply with individual states’ domicile, risk-based capital, rate filing, and  other regulatory requirements, as well as to allow the introduction of new products without disrupting the expectations of existing policyholders.)  As a result, the same insurance brand can be sold through a number of different underwriting companies.  At the risk of grossly oversimplifying the concept, the “juridical link” argument, as it has been raised in the insurance class action context, is that companies that are linked together through common ownership, brand, business practices, or sharing of resources can be sued in the same lawsuit by a representative plaintiff that has a claim against any one of them.

Those who prosecute or defend insurance class actions on a regular basis will recognize that the juridical link argument is nothing new.  Use of the juridical doctrine as a tactic to sue multiple, related defendants in a single class action hit its peak in the middle part of the last decade.  However, the tactic has waned in recent years as plaintiffs’ lawyers realized that it was much more efficient to simply round up a separate class representative for each underwriting company than to spend their time and effort briefing the complex procedural and constitutional issues implicated by the juridical link doctrine. 

Even so, as the recentness of the Mahon decision suggests, the argument has not gone away for good, and practical considerations in any given case can make it a tactic worth pursuing.  And, if the doctrine is on the comeback trail as a litigation tactic, Mahon provides an arrow in the quiver of defense attorneys for defeating it.

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