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Hagens Berman’s fee award in antitrust case fails again at 9th Circuit

A divided U.S. appeals court on Monday dealt another blow to Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro in a long-running antitrust case, ordering a do-over in a bid from the plaintiffs’ law firm seeking tens of millions of dollars in legal fees.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling 2-1, said a federal trial judge had used the wrong base dollar amount to calculate fees when it awarded Hagens Berman more than $31 million last year for its work in a lawsuit over alleged price-fixing for certain optical disk drives.

The panel identified a lower starting point by several millions of dollars and said a final award of $26,646,000 would not be out of bounds.

Seattle-based Hagens Berman represented U.S. consumers in netting a $205 million settlement involving claims against companies including Hitachi Ltd, LG Electronics Inc and Sony Corp. The plaintiffs bought computers with an optical disk drive, which includes a DVD player. Defendant companies have denied any liability.

Monday’s ruling was the latest strike against fee awards in the case spanning more than a decade.

The appeals court earlier wiped out trial court decisions awarding more than $52.7 million in fees. In a 2020 ruling, panel judges found some fault over the starting-point basis for the fee award.

Hagens Berman partner Shana Scarlett, who argued for the firm in the 9th Circuit in April, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Robert Clore of the Corpus Christi, Texas-based Bandas Law Firm, who represented an objector in the appeal, also did not immediately return a similar message.

Clore argued to the 9th Circuit that Hagens Berman’s original fee proposal used marginal rates, not fixed ones. Circuit Judges Ronald Gould and Carlos Bea said U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco should have used marginal rates as the foundation of the fee award.

At oral argument, Hagens Berman’s Scarlett defended Seeborg, saying he “looked at the totality” of the case in determining the fee. Seeborg said in his July 2021 order that the $31 million award was “reasonable under all the circumstances” regardless of the calculation of the starting point.

In a dissent, Circuit Judge Morgan Christen said Seeborg “was in the best position to decide upon a reasonable fee award in this case.” She backed the $31 million award.

The appeals panel rejected several other claims from Clore, including a bid for disgorgement of fees based on alleged violations of attorney ethics rules.

The case is In Re Optical Disk Drive Products Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3:10-md-02413.

Source: Reuters