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Elizabeth Pichler, et al. v. Unite Union of Needletrades

February 22, 2011

ELIZABETH PICHLER, ET AL.
v.
UNITE UNION OF NEEDLETRADES,
INDUSTRIAL & TEXTILE EMPLOYEES AFL-CIO



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dalzell, J.

MEMORANDUM

This Memorandum will consider the resolution of this class action that has reposed on this Court's docket since June 28, 2004. As it risks understatement to mention that the background of this case has been extensively rehearsed*fn1 , we will only briefly describe it here in order to put into relief class counsel's motion for approval of the settlement and for an award of attorneys' fees and expenses.

This action alleged UNITE's violation of the privacy of public motor vehicle records of various employees of Cintas Corporation in the Allentown, Pennsylvania area. The named plaintiffs and then-putative class representatives claimed that UNITE and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("IBT") violated the Driver's Privacy Protection Act ("DPPA"), 18 U.S.C. § 2721, et seq., when UNITE*fn2 organizers obtained the plaintiffs' names and addresses from official motor vehicle records as part of UNITE's nationwide campaign to unionize Cintas.

After extensive discovery and motion practice, we certified a class which, pursuant to the settlement, both sides now agree numbers as many as 1,209 members. After disposing of the liability issues involving the class representatives, we entered judgment in most of their favor for $2,500 each and resolved other related issues as to them only. See Pichler III and IV.

Both sides cross-appealed to the Court of Appeals, which ultimately affirmed our imposition of liability and entry of separate awards to two class representatives and the dismissal of two others. Pichler v. UNITE, 542 F.3d 380 (3d Cir. 2008). The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded for further proceedings our refusal to award punitive damages or grant multiple awards of liquidated damages. Notably, the Court of Appeals did not address questions relating to classwide relief.

The United States Supreme Court denied UNITE's petition for a writ of certiorari on March 23, 2009, UNITE v. Pichler, 129 S.Ct. 1662 (2009). On remand after the Supreme Court's denial of review, UNITE moved for summary judgment on the punitive damages issue, which the class opposed. In Pichler VI we granted UNITE's motion and denied the class the right to seek punitive damages. Whereupon, we entered judgment on August 12, 2009 for the remaining class representatives in the amount of $2,500 each and enjoined UNITE from using their motor vehicle information.*fn3

After it became apparent from the plaintiffs' submissions that they disagreed over many issues regarding class-wide relief and other class-related matters, with their agreement we referred the matter to the Hon. Jacob P. Hart for mediation.

After protracted mediation that included three sessions before Judge Hart, the parties finally agreed to a Settlement Agreement that we preliminarily approved in our Order of October 15, 2010. Notices were mailed first class to the 1,209 members that the parties agreed were potential members of the class entitled to submit proofs of claim. We convened a final fairness hearing on February 18, 2011.

The Settlement Agreement

After almost a year of negotiations under the patient and creative supervision of Judge Hart*fn4 , the parties on September 30, 2010 at last executed the Settlement Agreement. Briefly summarized, the Settlement Agreement adopted this Court's December 14, 2005 class definition in Pichler II which included:

All persons whose personal information from motor vehicle records was knowingly obtained, used and/or disclosed, directly or indirectly, by UNITE or UNITE HERE between July 1, 2002 and October 13, 2004 to attempt to contact Cintas Corporation employees.

Sett. Agr. at ¶ 2.5. The Agreement also obliged UNITE to deposit $4,022,500 into an escrow account to pay claimants and to fund the $1 million in attorneys' fees and costs to be paid to class counsel if we approved that sum.

As noted, the Settlement Agreement identified 1,209 potential class members with known addresses. It also provided that each eligible class member should receive the statutorily liquidated damages of $2,500 to which we found such class members should be entitled, rather than actual damages (a statutorily significant distinction, see 18 U.S.C. § 2724(b)(1)). To the extent that fewer than 1,209 potential claim members become eligible claimants, any balance remaining in the escrow account would be returned to UNITE.

On October 15, 2010, we entered an Order granting preliminary approval of the settlement. This Order gave objectors until January 4, 2011 to file any objections to the Settlement Agreement, and set the fairness hearing that we in fact convened (as ordered) on February 18, 2011. The Order also imposed a deadline of April 8, 2011 for potential class members to send in ...


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