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In a unanimous decision this morning, the California Supreme Court affirmed that attorneys’ fees in a class action may be calculated as a percentage of the common fund created by a settlement or judgment. Laffitte v. Robert Half Int’l, S222996 (August 11, 2016).
In determining the appropriate percentage, the trial court may -- but is not required to – conduct a lodestar cross-check. The trial court also has the discretion, in the first instance, to determine which fee calculation methodology to use (i.e. common fund or lodestar-multiplier) in any particular case. The decision has a useful discussion of the history and criticisms of each method.
Earlier this year, statistics made headlines as the subject of a new Supreme Court decision, Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo. As Jocelyn Larkin described in her earlier blog post, employees working in the kill, cut, and retrim departments of a Tyson Foods pork processing plant in Iowa alleged that they had not been paid overtime for the time they spent putting on and taking off the protective gear required to do their dangerous jobs. At trial, the employees relied on “representative evidence” to prove liability – an observational study that resulted in an estimated average “donning and doffing” time for each department. A jury awarded the class of employees about $2.9 million in unpaid wages.
The Supreme Court accepted Tyson’s appeal and agreed to consider two questions:
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