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In re General Motors Corp Air Conditioning Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 9, 2018

IN RE GENERAL MOTORS CORP. AIR CONDITIONING MARKETING AND SALES PRACTICES LITIGATION ALL CASES

          ORDER SETTING PROTOCOL FOR COMMON BENEFIT WORK AND EXPENSES

          MATTHEW F. LEITMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In an order dated April 11, 2018, the Court appointed the Plaintiffs' Co-Lead Counsel. (See ECF #13.) Among the duties imposed in that order on Co-Lead Counsel was the obligation to enforce guidelines approved by the Court as to the keeping of time records and expenses.[1] In this Order, the Court establishes specific guidelines and rules for work done and expenses incurred for the common benefit of all Plaintiffs in this MDL. Nothing in this Order shall be interpreted to affect any proceedings other than those involving the authorities, duties, responsibilities, guidelines, and rules of and for the Plaintiffs' counsel.

         I. Adoption of Case Management Protocols for Common Benefit Work.

         The Court hereby adopts the following guidelines for the management of case staffing, timekeeping, cost reimbursement, and related common benefit issues. The recovery of common benefit attorney's fees and cost reimbursements will be limited to Participating Counsel. “Participating Counsel” means Co-Lead Counsel, any other counsel authorized by Co-Lead Counsel to perform work that may be considered for common benefit compensation, and counsel who specifically have been approved by this Court as Participating Counsel before incurring any such cost or expense.

         Eligibility for payment does not pre-determine payment. If and to the extent that this litigation is certified as a class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 for purposes of resolution or trial, any award of fees and costs for common benefit work will be governed by the standards and procedures of Rule 23, including Rule 23(h). In all events, no award or payment of common benefit fees or costs shall be made without this Court's approval.

         Participating Counsel shall be eligible to receive common benefit attorney's fees and reimbursement of costs and expenses only if the time expended, costs incurred, and activity in question were (a) for the common benefit of the Plaintiffs; (b) timely submitted; and (c) reasonable. Participating Counsel, as defined above, must agree to the terms and conditions herein, including submitting to this Court's jurisdiction and agreeing that this Court has plenary authority regarding the award and allocation of common benefit attorney's fees and expense reimbursements in this matter.

         Co-Lead Counsel will be responsible for collecting monthly common benefit time and expense submissions from Participating Counsel, auditing the submissions for compliance with the directives set forth in this Order, and informing Participating Counsel when their submissions do not comply with the directives set forth in this Order. Co-Lead Counsel's auditing responsibility notwithstanding, the ultimate determination of what is compensable common benefit work, and the extent or rate at which it is compensable, is reserved to the Court.

         In the event that Participating Counsel are unsure if the action they are about to undertake is considered Common Benefit Work, they must ask Co-Lead Counsel in advance as to whether such time may be compensable.

         A. Compensable Common Benefit Work.

         “Common Benefit Work” includes all work done and expenses incurred that inure to the common benefit of the Plaintiffs in this MDL. Examples of compensable and noncompensable work include:

1. Consolidated Pleadings and Briefs:
(a) factual and legal research and preparation of consolidated class action complaints and related briefing; (b) responding to inquiries from class members; (c) communications with clients in response to Co-Lead Counsel's requests regarding proposed class representatives; (d) comments and suggestions regarding the consolidated class action complaints; and (e) class-related issues and briefing related thereto are compensable.
2. Depositions: Although it is impracticable to impose inflexible rules to cover every conceivable situation, Co-Lead Counsel shall exercise discretion, judgment, and prudence to designate only the number of attorneys to participate in any given deposition that is commensurate with the nature of that deposition so as to avoid over-staffing. Thus, for example, the deposition of a causation expert proffered by the defendant would typically justify the assignment of more attorneys than would the defense of the deposition of one of the Plaintiffs' fact witnesses. Time and expenses for Participating Counsel not designated as one of the authorized questioners or otherwise authorized to attend the deposition by Co-Lead Counsel may not be considered Common Benefit Work but, rather, work on behalf of such counsel's individual clients. Unnecessary attendance by counsel may not be compensated in any fee application to the Court.
3. Periodic MDL Status Conferences:
The Court intends to hold periodic status conferences to ensure that the litigation moves forward efficiently, and that legal issues are resolved with guidance from or formal rulings by the Court. Individual attorneys are free to attend any status conference held in open court to stay current on the status of the litigation, but except for Co-Lead Counsel or their designees, attending and listening to such conferences is not compensable Common Benefit Work. All attorneys have an obligation to keep themselves informed about the litigation so that they can best represent their respective clients. Mere attendance at a status conference will not be considered common benefit time, and expenses incurred in relation thereto will not be considered common benefit expenses. The attorneys designated by Co-Lead Counsel to address issues that will be raised at a given status conference, or requested by Co-Lead Counsel to be present at a status conference, will be working for the common benefit, and their time will be considered for the common benefit. Similarly, any attorney whose attendance at a status conference is requested specifically by the undersigned (or by any other judge presiding over this matter or any Court-appointed Special Master) to address a common issue may submit his or her time and expenses for such attendance for evaluation as Common Benefit Work.
4. Identification and Work-Up of Experts:
If a Participating Counsel retains an expert without the knowledge and approval of Co-Lead Counsel, time and expenses attributable to that endeavor may not be approved as Common Benefit Work. On the other hand, communications with and retention of experts with the knowledge and approval of Co-Lead Counsel will be considered common benefit time.
5. Attendance at Seminars: Except as approved by Co-Lead Counsel after consulting with the Court, attendance at seminars (e.g., American Association for Justice Section Meetings, Mass. Torts Made Perfect, Harris Martin, and similar seminars and Continuing Legal Education programs) shall not qualify as Common Benefit Work, or the expenses pertaining thereto as Common Benefit Expenses.
6. Discovery and Document Review:
Only discovery and document review authorized by Co-Lead Counsel and assigned to an attorney or law firm will be considered Common Benefit Work. If a firm or attorney elects to review documents that have not been assigned to them by Co-Lead Counsel, that review may not be considered Common Benefit Work. Descriptions associated with “document review” should contain sufficient detail to allow those reviewing the time entry to generally ascertain what was reviewed and include, for example, the custodian, search query, or number of document folders reviewed.
7. Review of Court Filings and Orders:
All attorneys have an obligation to keep themselves informed about the litigation so that they can best represent their respective clients; review of briefs and filings made and Orders entered in this litigation is part of that obligation. Only Court-appointed Counsel and those attorneys working on assignments therefrom that require them to review, analyze, or summarize those filings or Orders in connection with their assignments are doing so for the common benefit. All other counsel are reviewing those filings and Orders for their own benefit and that of their respective clients and such review will not be considered Common Benefit Work.
8. Emails and Correspondence:
Except for Co-Lead Counsel and their assigned attorneys and staff, time recorded for reviewing emails and other correspondence is not compensable unless germane to a specific task being performed by the receiving or sending attorney or party that is directly related to that email or other correspondence and that is for the common benefit of Plaintiffs. Thus, for example, review of an email or other correspondence sent to dozens of attorneys to keep them informed on a matter on which they are not specifically working would not be compensable as Common Benefit Work. All attorneys have an obligation to keep themselves informed about the litigation so that they can best represent their clients, and that is a reason to review emails and correspondence to a larger group, when they involve a matter on which the recipient is not directly and immediately working. Do not bill for receipt of confirming emails from the Court.

         B. Common Benefit Timekeeping Protocols.

         All time must be accurately and contemporaneously maintained. Participating Counsel must keep contemporaneous billing records of the time spent in connection with Common Benefit Work on this MDL, indicating with specificity the hours (in tenth-of-an-hour increments) and billing rate, along with a description of the particular activity (such as “conducted deposition of John Doe”).

         Each time entry must be categorized using one of the categories in Addendum A. In general, when possible, a more specific category should be used in place of a more general category. Under no circumstances should a submitting firm make up new categories for use in its submission. Block billing is not permitted.

         Although the categories are generally self-explanatory, below are some further explanations of some of the categories that may have the potential for the most confusion.

1. Lead Duties (category 2).
This category code should only be used for work done by Court-appointed Co-Lead Counsel and their assigned attorneys and staff, in their capacity as Court-appointed Counsel. This category should be used primarily for Court-appointed Counsel's more general or administrative responsibilities that do not fit into other, more specific categories. These include, but are not limited to, reviewing, analyzing, and summarizing filings and orders, or coordinating and designating non-Court-appointed attorneys to conduct common-benefit tasks such as document reviews, depositions, or work ...

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