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Morris v. Fidelity Investments, FMR LLC

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 7, 2017

ADRIAN MORRIS, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated Plaintiff,



         For the guidance of counsel, please review the Procedural Guidance for Class Action Settlements, which is available on the website for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California at

         In addition, counsel should review the following substantive and timing factors that the undersigned judge will consider in determining whether to grant preliminary and/or final approval to a proposed class settlement. Many of these factors have already been set forth in In re Bluetooth Headset Products Liability Litigation, 654 F.3d 935, 946-47 (9th Cir. 2011), but the following discussion further illustrates the undersigned judge's consideration of such factors:

         1. Adequacy of Representation.

         Anyone seeking to represent a class, including a settlement class, must affirmatively meet the Rule 23 standards, including adequacy. It will not be enough for a defendant to stipulate to adequacy of the class representation (because a defendant cannot speak for absent class members). An affirmative showing of adequacy must be made in a sworn record. Any possible shortcomings in a plaintiff's resume, such as a conflict of interest, a criminal conviction, a prior history of litigiousness, and/or a prior history with counsel, must be disclosed. Adequacy of counsel is not a substitute for adequacy of the representative.

         2. Due Diligence.

         Please remember that when one undertakes to act as a fiduciary on behalf of others (here, the absent class members), one must perform adequate due diligence before acting. This requires the representative and his or her counsel to investigate the strengths and weaknesses of the case, including the best-case dollar amount of claim relief. A quick deal up front may not be fair to absent class members.

         3. Cost-Benefit for Absent Class Members.

         In the proposed class settlement, how do the costs of what absent class members will give up compare to the benefits of what they will receive in exchange? If the recovery will be a full recovery, then much less will be required to justify the settlement than for a partial recovery, in which case the discount will have to be justified. The greater the discount, the greater must be the justification. This will require an analysis of the specific proof, such as a synopsis of any conflicting evidence on key fact points. It will also require a final class-wide damage study or a very good substitute, in sworn form. If little discovery has been done to see how strong the claim is, it will be hard to justify a substantial discount on the mere generalized theory of “risks of litigation.” A coupon settlement will rarely be approved. Where there are various subgroups within the class, counsel must justify the plan of allocation of the settlement fund.

         4. The Release.

         The proposed release should be limited only to the claims certified for class treatment. Language releasing claims that “could have been brought” is too vague and overbroad. The specific statutory or common law claims to be released should be spelled out. Class counsel must justify the release as to each claim released, the probability of winning, and its estimated value if fully successful.

         Does the proposed class settlement contemplate that claims of absent class members will be released even for those whose class notice is returned as undeliverable? Usually, the Court will not extinguish claims of individuals known to have received no notice or who received no benefit (and/or for whom there is no way to send them a settlement check). Put differently, usually the release must extend only to those who receive money for the release.

         5. Expansion of the Class.

         Typically, defendants vigorously oppose class certification and/or argue for a narrow class. In settling, however, defendants often seek to expand the class, either geographically (i.e., nationwide) or claim-wise (including claims not even in the complaint) or person-wise (e.g., multiple new categories). Such expansions will be viewed with suspicion. If an expansion is to occur it must come with an adequate plaintiff and one with standing to represent the add-on scope and with an amended complaint to include the new claims, not to mention due diligence as to the expanded scope. The settlement dollars must be ...

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