In plaintiff commuters’ suit alleging defendant operators of the High-Occupancy Toll Roads in Northern Virginia violated various federal and state laws by assessing massive fees and penalties for minor toll violations, the Alexandria U.S. District Court grants final certification of a class and grants the parties’ joint motion for final approval of the class-action providing for $1.3 million in refund checks; the court also awards attorney’s fees of $675,000 to plaintiffs’ attorneys and a service award of $3,150 for the class representatives.
In terms of retrospective relief, the agreement establishes a settlement fund in which Transurban will provide up to $1,350,000 collectively in refund checks to class members who make valid claims. The amount of the refund depends on the amount the class member paid in administrative fees or civil penalties. Transurban will not pay more than $1,350,000 collectively to class member; thus, payments will be reduced pro rata once this cap is reached.
Additionally, Transurban will forgive all unpaid tolls and associated administrative fees that are outstanding and unpaid at the collections stage that, as of March 1, 2016, were more than 12 months old from the date of the toll violation at issue. The proposed agreement also provides for significant prospective relief to members of the settlement class for a period of five years.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has agreed, in connection with the settlement, to send an email to eligible Virginia E-ZPass customers who failed to pay a toll due to insufficient funds in their E-ZPass account, reminding customers to promptly bring their account into good standing. Virginia E-ZPass customers will now have 10 days, instead of five, to bring their accounts into good standing, thereby avoiding administrative fees.
The agreement also provides E-ZPass users relief from the debt collection process that was at issue in this lawsuit. Finally, the settlement provides for the class representatives, class members who do not opt out of the class and those who receive postcards and pay reduced FTF amounts at the collections or court stage to release all defendants from all claims that were asserted in this lawsuit or relate to unpaid toll violations on the Express Lanes.
Class counsel requests $675,000 in attorney’s fees and expenses – which represents only a portion of the lodestar class counsel has accrued in this case – and a combined service award to the class representatives and former class representatives of $3,150. No settlement class members have filed an objection to the amount of attorney’s fees and expenses allowed under the agreement.
Counsels’ hourly rates are within the low range for rates charged by attorneys with similar levels of experience and credentials in Washington, D.C.
The Laffey Matrix is useful as a guideline for reasonable attorney’s fees in the Washington/Baltimore area. Other courts in the 4th Circuit have used the Adjusted Laffey Matrix to evaluate the reasonableness of a requested fee award. Regardless of which rate is used here, each is within the range of reasonable rates approved in the 4th Circuit.
Class counsel attests they expended 1,730.2 hours litigating this case. Counsel also attests that they coordinated their work among the four law firms involved, as well as the work of two additional law firms that assisted, to prevent duplication of effort, as well as assigned work to associates and paralegals whenever possible and appropriate. The hours spent litigating this action reflect the effort required to achieve a satisfactory result.
Based upon each law firm’s actual billing rates and the number of hours expended, class counsel’s lodestar is $876,271.20. Under the standard Laffey Matrix, class counsel’s lodestar is $708,614.85; under the adjusted Laffey Matrix, the lodestar is $997,918.30. Class counsel’s requested fee of $675,000 falls below the lodestar incurred during the course of this litigation. Moreover, class counsel spent $23,766.49 in expenses on this case. The stipulated fee is a reasonable compromise for calculating class counsel’s lodestar.
Brown v. Transurban USA Inc. (Cacheris) No. 1:15cv494, Sept. 29, 2016; USDC at Alexandria, Va.; Ben DiMuro for plaintiffs; Nathaniel T. Connally III for defendants. VLW 016-3-462, 46 pp.