By Jeffrey May, J.D.
The federal district court in Oakland, California, has officially signed off on a $208.7 million antitrust settlement on behalf of classes of current and former National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) student-athletes from Division I schools, who challenged an NCAA bylaw that capped the maximum grant-in-aid awards at less than the full cost of attendance at the schools. The settlement resolved the damages claims of approximately 53,748 class members. Separately, the court awarded class counsel $41.7 million in fees and nearly $3.2 million in expenses and costs. The fee award of $41,732,889 is exactly 20 percent of the $208,664,445 million settlement fund. The court also agreed to provide service awards of $20,000 each for the four class representatives (In re: National Collegiate Athletics Association Athletic Grant-in-Aid Cap Antitrust Litigation, December 6, 2017, Wilken, C.).
The settlement was found to be fair, adequate, and reasonable. Under the settlement, $208,664,445 (after deduction of fees and expenses) was to be disbursed to student-athletes who attended Division I schools that purportedly would have awarded the full cost of attendance at those schools (COA) to the students, but for the NCAA bylaw that capped the maximum grant-in-aid at less than COA. The settlement amount equaled approximately 100 percent of the settlement classes’ single damages claims at the time of settlement, the court noted. The average recovery for a class member who played his or her sport for four years was approximately $6,000.
The settlement did not bar the class claims for prospective injunctive relief from going forward. The plaintiffs intend to continue to vigorously pursue them, according to the court.
Fairness and reasonableness of fee award. The court noted that in the Ninth Circuit, a 25 percent "benchmark" award for fees was presumed reasonable. The 20 percent fee in this case was justified by the exceptional results achieved and the complexity of the case. This percentage also was in line with fees awarded in analogous cases. Moreover, counsel for the plaintiffs invested $11,398,158.30 in attorneys’ and para-professionals’ time in the case. They also spent $3,184,274.38 in expenses, which were deemed reasonable. This commitment of time, personnel, and money to the classes supported the requested award, according to the court. The court pointed out that some of the more senior plaintiffs’ attorneys billed at hourly rates between $835 and $1,035. Applying lodestar as a cross-check further supported the fee award.
Service awards. Because the class representatives spent a significant amount of time assisting in the litigation, in preparing for and having their depositions taken, in searching for and producing documents that spanned many years, and in conferring with counsel throughout the litigation, the court approved service awards in the amount of $20,000 each for the four class representatives. These amounts were to be deducted from the settlement funds.
This case is No. 4:14-md-02541-CW.
Attorneys: Steven W. Berman (Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP), Bruce L. Simon (Pearson, Simon & Warshaw, LLP), and Elizabeth C. Pritzker (Pritzker and Levine LLP) for plaintiffs. Jacquelyn Nicole Ferry (Proskauer Rose LLP) and William L. Greene (Stinson Leonard Street LLP) for Pacific 12 Conference. Christopher John Kelly (Mayer Brown LLP) for The Big Ten Conference, Inc. Raoul Dion Kennedy (Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP) and Gregory L. Curtner (Schiff Hardin LLP) for National Collegiate Athletic Assn.
Companies: National Collegiate Athletic Assn.
MainStory: TopStory Antitrust CaliforniaNews
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