A $32 million class-action settlement resolving claims that Bank of America violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by calling or texting consumers' mobile phones without consent has received a federal district court's final approval.
But Judge Edward J. Davila of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California drastically lowered the amount the plaintiffs attorneys will see for their work in Stephanie Rose v. Bank of America. He reduced class counsel's requested $8 million in attorneys' fees and costs to approximately $2.4 million. The revised fee award will be deducted from the $32 million settlement fund.
The court called the attorneys' estimated hours spent on settlement negotiations and mediation "particularly excessive" and said their deliberate litigation strategy resulted in class members being "asked to pay the costs of litigating six separate actions with a total of 18 attorneys and eight paralegals."
Davila said the attorneys appear to have "coordinated their efforts from very early on in the proceedings, perhaps deliberately selecting a litigation strategy whereby defendants would be overwhelmed by attacks on several fronts and consequently forced to negotiate from a weaker position." The consolidated case was first comprised of several separate class actions.
The lawsuit involved charges that the bank's debt collection calls from its credit card and mortgage units were made to cell phones using autodialers. The settlement amount, although large, falls short of two other TCPA settlements that recently received preliminary approval, a $34 million settlement with Chase Bank and a $75 million settlement involving Capital One.
The plaintiffs in the Capital One case said that, if the court grants final approval, the settlement would be the largest in the TCPA's 22-year history. In that case, Capital One will contribute $72.5 million to a settlement fund. Three collection agencies - AllianceOne Receivables Management Inc., Leading Edge Recovery Solutions LLC and Capital Management Systems LP will pay the remaining $2.5 million.
The Bank of America settlement has a potential class size of 7.7 million.
The court found the hours billed for settlement negotiations and mediation excessive and that much of the billed work was duplicative.
Davila further criticized the non-monetary relief proposed by the settlement. He said that under the terms of the settlement, members of the class should expect to still receive automated calls since Bank of America maintains that they had "prior express consent" to do so. The settlement does not call on Bank of America to change their definition of consent, merely to have consent before autodialing cell numbers.
Bank of America has denied the allegations in the case, contending that it had the plaintiffs' and class members' prior express consent, the court said.