If they want to settle the case, don’t hassle ’em!

In keeping with the football theme of the ongoing Portland Panel Preview, imPaneled shines the spotlight today on MDL 2468, In re Pilot Flying J Fuel Rebate Contract Litigation.  imPaneled’s many readers in Cleveland and Tennessee are likely aware of the underlying claims, as Pilot Flying J is the family business of Cleveland Browns owner (and PFJ CEO) Jimmy Haslam and his brother, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam.  In those parts of the country, press coverage of the allegations has been so intense that controversy surrounding Thursday’s Panel hearing in the case was actually covered in a mainstream newspaper.

But laypeople, try as they may, can’t convey the Panel-centric nuances of the proceeding like imPaneled can.  It began like so many before it, with the public disclosure of a federal investigation, followed by a flood of class actions and a Panel motion.  That in turn was followed by a slew of responses, with most plaintiffs favoring centralization in the S.D. Miss. and PFJ touting its home turf in the E.D. Tenn.

The proceeding became interesting less than a week ago when some (but not all) of the plaintiffs filed in the E.D. Ark.–a district to which no one seeks transfer–a motion seeking the preliminary approval of a class-wide settlement they had reached with PFJ the previous day.  Judge James M. Moody preliminarily approved the settlement the day the motion was filed.  Two days later, the settling parties (including PFJ) asked to stay the Panel proceeding.  The non-settling plaintiffs predictably resisted (and predictably questioned the terms of the settlement) the following day.  And after no doubt spending the weekend engrossed in internal debate, the Panel today entered the minute order imPaneled was hoping to see: “Oral Argument will proceed in this docket as planned.”  Oral Argument indeed.  Settling plaintiffs’ counsel include Lieff Cabraser, the Becnel Law Firm and Zimmerman Reed.  Non-settling plaintiffs’ counsel include Heins Mills and Goldman Scarlato Karon & Penny.

Meanwhile, imPaneled was disappointed to be reminded that when the N.D. Cal. publicly solicited lead counsel applications in the Wells Fargo force-placed insurance cases pending there (see imPaneled’s previous coverage here), it required that they be filed by hand under seal–which means that we will learn nothing about them for the time being.  But there will be wide-ranging lead counsel drama forthcoming in that and vaguely related proceedings nevertheless, which will come to a head before the Panel on Thursday.

The N.D. Cal. Wells Fargo cases are but some of several that comprise MDL 2466, In re Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Mortgage Corporation Force-Placed Hazard Insurance Litigation.  The plaintiffs’ counsel who forced the public solicitation in the N.D. Cal.–Berger & Montague and Nichols Kaster–have joined forces with Kessler Topaz and Lowey Dannenberg before the Panel, seeking centralization in either the N.D. Cal. or the S.D. Ill.  The Arkansas plaintiffs who were effectively deposed in the N.D. Cal. are resisting centralization anywhere, and aligned with Kozyak Tropin and Podhurst Orseck.

And that is worthy of imPaneled’s attention because . . . .?  Because substantially the same groups of counsel are bickering over venue in three other force-placed insurance proceedings that will be before the Panel on Thursday: MDLs 2464 (v. HSBC), 2465 (v. JPMorgan Chase) and 2467 (v. Bank of America).  The possibilities that would spell victory for one group and defeat for the other are limitless.  The arguments will proceed seriatim immediately after everyone enjoys a lobster lunch.  The plaintiffs’ counsel involved may get eight (rather than the usual two) minutes to speak to the Panel as a result–which is well worth a July trip to beautiful Maine from any district in the nation.

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Magnum Hunting

Hunting for fees, that is, in securities litigation against alleged fraudster Magnum Hunter Resources, wherein hyper-contested lead counsel motions were filed earlier this week.  Unfortunately, those motions are hyper-contested only by virtue of their number rather than their substance.  No fewer than eight (8; VIII; שםונח) counsel groups filed motions in each of two districts–all eight in the S.D.N.Y., three of whom filed in the S.D. Tex. as well.

Pomerantz Haudek was the busiest of the eight, filing a complaint by itself in Texas, which Saxena White followed with another complaint–filed by the same local counsel.  Pomerantz subsequently dismissed its Texas case, which evidently got Magnum’s attention.  Seeking to litigate on its own turf, and perhaps fearful that Saxena White might follow Pomerantz out of town, Magnum filed a 1404 motion in New York, seeking to consolidate cases pending there with the one remaining in Texas.

The dockets were then relatively quiet until this past Monday, when all heck* broke loose.  Pomerantz–armed with new clients and now aligned with Chimicles & Tikellis–filed lead counsel motions for those clients in both Houston and New York.  A Robbins Geller/Labaton tag team did the same, as did Morgan & Morgan.  The other contestants–Cohen Milstein, Kessler Topaz, Squitieri & Fearon, Finkelstein & Krinsk and Bernstein Liebhard–limited themselves to the blue state court.  And all parties limited themselves to submissions that are so bland that to call them “boilerplate” would be insulting to boilerplates.

So who’s likely to emerge from this with all the spoils?  As is often the case, Robbins Geller and Labaton claim the greatest losses–somewhere in the high six figures.  Cohen Milstein and Morgan are both in the low six figures.  The others all claim five-figure losses, which is a shame–not for those firms, but for imPaneled, as we would like to see nothing more than knockdown, smash-mouth, eight-way verbal sparring.  That is likely not forthcoming.  But there will hopefully be drama sufficient to justify a future post.  Stay tuned.

* – imPaneled is a family blog.

Hot off the press

Two weeks ago, Judge Scheindlin of the S.D.N.Y. entered Kessler Topaz’s proposed order appointing that firm as lead counsel in In re: Longtop Financial Technologies Limited Securities Litigation.  Earlier today, she entered an opinion explaining herself at some length.  Three of the other five contenders–represented by Berman DeValerio, Robbins Geller and Kaplan Fox–earlier effectively conceded defeat based on their clients’ relatively small financial interests in the case.  Another contender, represented by Curtis Trinko and Saxena White, withdrew its motion and threw its support to Kessler Topaz. The Rosen Law Firm and Wohl & Fruchter fought to the bitter end on behalf of their common clients.  Judge Scheindlin’s opinion is here.  The docket is here.

  • About the blogmaster

    Bart Cohen is the principal of the Law Office of Bart D. Cohen, where he represents his clients in class actions and other complex litigation, and Winning Briefs, where he polishes, edits and drafts written work product for overextended lawyers.

    His unnatural appetites for rules and research of all kinds have made him an expert on proceedings before the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. He feeds those appetites and chronicles the battles to land lead counsel appointments that are fought in part before the Panel on imPaneled.

    You can contact Bart here or connect with him here.

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