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McLaughlin v. Wells Fargo Bank N.A.

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 15, 2017

LATASHA MCLAUGHLIN, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., d/b/a WELLS FARGO HOME MORTGAGE, Defendant. Project Description Hours Historic Lodestar Description Expense

          ORDER RE PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS FOR FINAL APPROVAL OF CLASS SETTLEMENT AND ATTORNEY'S FEES

          WILLIAM ALSUP UNITED STATE DISTRICT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         In this TILA class action, plaintiff moves for final approval of a proposed settlement agreement and for attorney's fees. The motion for final approval is Granted. The motion for attorney's fees is Granted in part.

         STATEMENT

         The background of this case has been set forth in detail in a prior order (Dkt. No. 123) and does not need to be repeated here. In brief, plaintiff Latasha McLaughlin asserts class claims against defendant Wells Fargo Bank, alleging that defendant failed to provide accurate payoff statements as required by the Truth in Lending Act.

         The proposed settlement follows over a year of contentious litigation, including discovery and extensive motion practice. To recap just the highlights: Class counsel successfully opposed defendant's motion to dismiss and subsequent motion for leave to seek reconsideration; partially succeeded in opposing defendant's first motion to stay; successfully certified two classes (one to pursue damages and another to pursue declaratory relief); and successfully opposed defendant's second motion to stay (see Dkt. Nos. 36, 46, 89, 123, 138).

         Plaintiff then moved unopposed for preliminary approval of the proposed class settlement (Dkt. No. 151). That motion indicated that class counsel would request up to $1.95 million in attorney's fees, and that plaintiff would apply for an incentive award of five thousand dollars. Neither the attorney's fees nor the incentive award would diminish the settlement fund; rather, defendant would separately pay any amount awarded. A prior order granted preliminary approval but advised that both the estimated attorney's fees and incentive award requests were subject to reduction at the final approval stage (Dkt. No. 158 at 3-4).

         Plaintiff now moves for final approval of the proposed class settlement (Dkt. No. 163) and for attorney's fees (Dkt. No. 166). In the latter motion, plaintiff seeks $1.85 million in attorney's fees, $43, 063.76 in costs, and an incentive award in the amount of five thousand dollars. No class member has objected to either motion (Dkt. No. 173 at 7). Defendant opposes only plaintiff's request for attorney's fees and costs; it does not oppose plaintiff's request for an incentive award (Dkt. No. 169). This order follows full briefing and oral argument.

         ANALYSIS

         1. Proposed Class Settlement.

         A court may approve a proposed class settlement only upon finding that it is fair, reasonable, and adequate, taking into account (1) the strength of the plaintiff's case; (2) the risk, expense, complexity, and likely duration of further litigation; (3) the risk of maintaining class action status throughout the trial; (4) the amount offered in settlement; (5) the extent of discovery completed and the stage of the proceedings; (6) the experience and view of counsel; (7) the presence of a governmental participant; and (8) the reaction of the class members to the proposed settlement. F.R.C.P. 23(e); In re Online DVD-Rental Antitrust Litig., 779 F.3d 934, 944 (9th Cir. 2015). Two of the factors are inapplicable here because the classes are certified and there is no governmental participant in this case.

         As stated, the parties negotiated this proposed class settlement after a year plus of litigation, which included discovery, extensive motion practice, and class certification. Plaintiff has generally, albeit not unequivocally, prevailed in motion practice thus far, but class counsel acknowledges several risks associated with continuing this litigation. For example, the case might not survive summary judgment or prevail at trial. Even if it did, an appeal is all but inevitable (indeed, defendant attempted to appeal twice prior to this point), and there is no guarantee that said appeal would be decided in plaintiff's favor.

         The proposed class settlement provides for a settlement fund of $880, 000, representing 88 percent of the maximum monetary recovery that would have been available under TILA had plaintiff prevailed. See 15 U.S.C. 1640(a)(2)(B) (limiting class recovery under TILA to “the lesser of $1, 000, 000 or 1 per centum of the net worth of the creditor”). This amount will not be diminished by, nor is it contingent upon, any outcome of plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees. Additionally, the proposed class settlement requires defendant to implement a “practice change” that reforms its payoff statements to comply with TILA, resulting in further and prospective benefit to class members. The release in the proposed class settlement is tailored to the certified classes, releases only class claims actually brought in this action, and does not bind any class member whose notice was returned as undeliverable and who could not be located with reasonable diligence. Class counsel are experienced in consumer class action litigation and believe this is an excellent result for class members. And, as stated, no class member objected to the proposed class settlement.

         In short, having considered the applicable factors, this order finds the proposed class settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate so as to warrant final approval.

         2. Attorney's Fees, Costs, ...


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