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In a battle between Facebook Inc and plaintiffs' lawyers over nearly $12 million in requested attorneys' fees and costs stemming from a data breach settlement, a California federal judge on Thursday said a special master will consider how much class counsel can recover, and said the work of other plaintiffs firms in the case shouldn't be considered in the accounting.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco, in an order granting final approval of the deal, said a special master will "recalculate fees and costs to a reasonable sum" for appointed class counsel from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, Morgan & Morgan Complex Litigation Group and Tadler Law.
Andrew Friedman of Cohen Milstein, John Yanchunis of Morgan & Morgan and Ariana Tadler of Tadler law did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Nor did Facebook and one of its lawyers from Latham & Watkins, Elizabeth Deeley.
The class counsel's request had included $10.7 million in fees based on a 1.253 multiplier on top of the proposed lodestar, and about $1.2 million in costs. The lawyers also asked for a $15,000 reserve for expert costs to monitor settlement compliance and a $5,000 award for the named plaintiff.
The settlement, over a 2018 vulnerability that affected millions of users, does not have a monetary component and requires Facebook to enhance its security practices with external oversight for five years.
Facebook's lawyers had pushed back on the fee request for a variety of reasons, among them "documentation deficiencies" and "top-heavy staffing." The class lawyers, in response, criticized the company's attempt to "put the squeeze" on them.
Alsup on Thursday granted final approval of the deal, though said that "the success of the settlement seems modest as best and cosmetic at worst."
Turning to the fees and costs, the fee application included time and expenses for 17 law firms and over 100 timekeepers, he noted, "although most of the work appears to have been done by class counsel."
As the court had specifically designated three firms to represent the class, and did not approve a committee to help them, it was "therefore improper for class counsel to delegate class representation after appointment," Alsup said. "Any work farmed out to lawyers other than class counsel shall not be included in the lodestar," he ruled.
He also highlighted aspects of the class lawyers' work that he said "raises questions" about the time put in and the requested costs, saying the special master will take a look at, and reduce, the lodestar. In a separate order, Alsup said the special master should file a report and recommendations for an award by Aug. 27.
Alsup also said Facebook may have taken many of the steps outlined in the settlement despite the settlement discussions, pointing to voluntary actions it took in adopting security measures. The order allows recovery for reasonable time incurred, he said, but "no bonus or multiplier will be allowed in view of the limited success in this case (even if the agreement could be stretched to cover a bonus or multiplier)."
The case is Adkins v. Facebook, Inc., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3: 18-cv-05982-WHA.
For the class: John Yanchunis of Morgan & Morgan, Ariana Tadler of Tadler Law and Andrew Friedman of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll
For Facebook: Elizabeth Deeley of Latham & Watkins
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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