Magistrate Judge Edward M. Chen (whose confirmation to the Northern District of California bench has unfortunately been stalled for far too long) approved the class settlement and attorney fee application in Stuart v. RadioShack Corp., 2010 WL 3155645, No. C-07-4499 EMC (N.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2010).
This class action was initiated in state court in June 2007, alleging that RadioShack had improperly failed to reimburse its employees for expenses they incurred in using their personal vehicles to perform inter-company transfers (“ICSTs”). Plaintiffs claimed for reimbursement pursuant to California Labor Code § 2802 and for a violation of California Business & Professions Code. Subsequently Plaintiffs added a claim for recovery of penalties under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”). The case was removed in August 2007. And in February 2009, Judge Chen granted the motion for class certification, certifying a class consisting of “all persons employed by RadioShack within the State of California, at any time from June 3, 2003, to the present, who drove their personal vehicles to and from RadioShack stores to carry out ICSTs and who were not reimbursed for mileage.” On October 1, 2009–nine days before trial was scheduled to begin–the parties reached a settlement.
Under the Settlement Agreement, RadioShack will pay a total of $4.5 million for the release by the class, as an all-inclusive sum (proceeds to be distributed to the class, attorney’s fees and litigation expenses, costs of claim administration, incentive payments to the class representatives, and the PAGA award to the state), without reversion of any of the $4.5 million to RadioShack.
After attorney’s fees, litigation expenses, costs of claim administration, incentive payments, and the PAGA award to the state have been deducted from the $4.5 million, the remainder for distribution to the class members and/or donation to charity is $2,796,563.31.
Each class member’s award “depends on the number of weeks that the class member worked.”
The Court found that, importantly, “the amount available to the class after deductions for, e.g., fees and costs–i.e., $2,796,563.31–is not far off what the class might be awarded if it were to prevail on the merits after a trial.” Id. *4.
Plaintiffs’ counsel asked for an award of $1.5 million (i.e., one-third of the total settlement amount), plus litigation expenses which total $78,436.69.
The Court has reviewed the expenses and determined that they are reasonable. The Court notes that the sum is not excessive given that this litigation has been ongoing for more than three years.
Attorneys Fees Application
The attorneys presented a fee application claiming $1.5 million as a lodestar for fees–excluding work performed in preparing for final approval and any post-judgment work that may be needed. The $1.5 million sum represents 2,116.69 hours of work over a period of more than three years, at hourly rates of the billing attorneys ranging from $600 to $1,000.
After reviewing the billing records submitted by counsel as well as the declarations regarding the hourly rates of counsel, the court found that the number of hours was reasonable given the length of the lawsuit and the vigorous disputes over the course of the litigation (e.g., regarding RadioShack’s defense that it had no duty to reimburse until an employee made a request for reimbursement).
The court did express some “concerns about the $1,000 hourly rate” claimed by one of the attorneys. “Based on the Court’s experience, this is an inordinately large hourly rate, even if the Court were to assume that [the attorney] has fifty years of experience.” But the Court concluded that “given the 2,116.69 hours incurred, the average hourly rate for a fee award of $1.5 million total is $708, an amount that the Court deems appropriate, particularly when no multiplier is being sought on top of the lodestar.”
Compared to the percentage of the fund, the court noted that “the total settlement amount to be paid by RadioShack (with no possibility of reversion), the fee award represents one-third of the settlement amount.” The court found that this was “well within the range of percentages which courts have upheld as reasonable in other class action lawsuits.”
The court also approved an incentive award of $5,000 for each of the two class representatives, for a total of $10,000. The Court concluded that the incentive payments were appropriate and reasonable. “Although the class representatives did not enter this litigation until late in the proceedings, due consideration must be given to the fact that they were willing and ready to go to trial.” The court noted that if the “class representatives had asked for a larger sum, the Court might well have reached a different conclusion, but the $5,000 sought for each representative was viewed as “relatively modest.”