“Grandma went to Disney World and all I got was a t-shirt!”
That’s how members of class action suits might sometimes feel after their attorneys win their case or negotiate a settlement for them. Only, instead of a t-shirt, they get a few hundred dollars or a coupon good toward the purchase of the product that was the subject of the litigation.
Meanwhile, the attorneys have secured seven-figure fees.
It doesn’t seem fair -- at least, not to the class members.
The 11,256 St. Clair County clients who were members of a class participating in a pollution suit against Monsanto certainly expected to get more than the $600 their attorneys negotiated for them, and which they have received. But now that a panel of Fifth District appellate judges has vacated the decision and lambasted the two judges responsible for it, uncertainty remains.
St. Clair County Circuit Court Judges Andrew Gleeson and Vincent Lopinot apparently approved the settlement while barely reading it.
“The settling parties did not offer even an estimated amount of the final settlement or any basis for the settlement proposed,” Justice Judy Cates wrote for the appellate panel. “The total lack of information casts a shadow on the legal validity of the settlement itself.”
Cates said there was “no indication that that the trial court reviewed the settlement agreement, or had any information justifying the allocation of the settlement fund among the plaintiffs.”
How did the plaintiffs attorneys respond to that stinging rebuke? Pish posh, they said. The deal’s still on.
“The appeals court raised some issues regarding the lower court’s approval of the settlement at a previous hearing,” the Environmental Litigation Group of Birmingham, Ala. conceded in an April 27 letter to its clients. “Essentially, the court instructed the local court to review more information regarding the settlement before issuing approval.”
That’s putting a happy face on it. Translation: you might be lucky to get a t-shirt.