With the addition of three former Labaton attorneys to its antitrust department earlier this year, Robins Kaplan effectively announced its aspiration to join the heavyweights of the antitrust class action bar. But the new and improved department’s first Panel-centric battle for lead counsel status has apparently become something of a mismatch, as at least three incumbent heavyweights have joined forces on the other side of the battle.
As imPaneled’s many readers who ship cars overseas surely know, major providers of vehicle carrier services have been the subject of international price-fixing investigations that were disclosed last year. For reasons unbeknownst* to imPaneled, no private actions followed until two were filed on the same day in late May, one in the D.N.J. by the aforementioned Robins Kaplanites and one in the decidedly plaintiff-hostile M.D. Fla. by Susman Godfrey.
Then things got interesting. First Cotchett Pitre filed in the N.D. Cal., which has become the presumptive destination for all antitrust MDLs involving Asian defendants (as do these cases) and/or IT. Then Weinstein Kitchenoff cast its lot with Robins Kaplan, and Robbins Geller did the same with Susman Godfrey–at least temporarily. And Wolf Haldenstein forged its own path in the S.D. Cal.
Contrary to class action bar practice, no one filed a Panel motion for a week after that (and three weeks after the initial complaints), when Cotchett Pitre pulled the trigger. Perhaps reading the Panel tea leaves–or clamoring for that relatively plaintiff-friendly Ninth Circuit law–Cuneo Gilbert and Cafferty Clobes jumped on the N.D. Cal. bandwagon. But it was Robbins Geller that threw a bombshell into the proceeding, when their client abandoned their Susman Godfrey cohort in the M.D. Fla., and told the Panel they wanted the cases in the N.D. Cal. as well. Two days later, Susman Godfrey bit the bullet and plugged the N.D. Cal., but suggested the M.D. Fla. as an alternative.
Meanwhile, responses to Cotchett’s motion aren’t even due until next week, and Robins Kaplan and Wolf Haldenstein have not yet weighed in as to their chosen districts. Consistent with class action bar custom, whoever prevails before the Panel will claim hegemony over the case going forward. That rule has the benefit of simplicity in application, keeps counsel’s dirty laundry out of the public eye, and spares courts the burden of dealing with additional motion practice. But whether it serves the best interests of class members is a completely different story, which apparently no one likes to tell.
imPaneled is not going to change that rule any time soon (but in the future, perhaps). So imPaneled will merely prognosticate: This proceeding will end up in the N.D. Cal., like so many similar actions before it in recent years. That said, imPaneled would like to see the East Coast get one of these cases for a change–which explains in part the prognostication above. In the offline world, imPaneled’s prognostications without fail induce the opposite to transpire. In MDL 2471, In re Vehicle Carrier Services Antitrust Litigation, Their Honors might simultaneously bring to an end both imPaneled’s losing streak and the N.D. Cal.’s winning streak.
* – Free publicity right here on imPaneled to any reader who can identify another word in the English language that ends with “-wnst.”