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In re Fasteners Antitrust Litigation

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 24, 2014

IN RE FASTENERS ANTITRUST LITIGATION

MEMORANDUM

R. BARCLAY SURRICK, J.

Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs’ Motion for Final Approval of Proposed Settlements with the Prym, YKK and Coats Defendants and Plaintiffs’ Proposed Plan for Distribution of Settlement Funds (ECF No. 128). For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted, and the settlements will be approved.

I. BACKGROUND [1]

A. Factual Background and Procedural History

This multi-district litigation is based on allegations that four groups of corporate defendants engaged in a global “conspiracy to fix prices and allocate customers and markets in the United States and worldwide for ‘Fasteners, ’” in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1. (Consol. Class Action Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 61.) The term “Fasteners” includes zippers, snap fasteners, buttons, hooks, and other similar products used primarily in the textile, apparel, footwear, and luggage industries. (Id. at ¶ 35.) The instant Motion seeking final approval of the proposed settlements involve three groups of Defendants: (1) the “Prym Defendants, ” which include William Prym GmbH & Co. KG, Prym Consumer USA, Inc., Prym Fashion, Inc., Prym Inovan GmbH & Co., Prym Consumer GmbH, EP Group S.A., Inovan GmbH & Co. KG, Prym Fashion GmbH, Prym Consumer Europe GmbH, and William Prym Inc.; (2) the “YKK Defendants, ” which include YKK Corporation, YKK Corporation of America, Inc., YKK (U.S.A.) Inc., and YKK Snap Fasteners America, Inc.; and (3) the “Coats Defendants, ” which include Coats Holdings, Ltd., Coats Holdings, Inc., Coats American, Inc., d.b.a. Coats North America, Coats North America de Republica Dominicana, Inc., and Coats & Clark, Inc.[2]

Plaintiffs Fishman & Tobin, Greco Apparel, Inc., Jolna Apparel Group LLC, and Norman Shatz Co., U.S.A. (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) brought this consolidated class action on behalf of themselves and others who purchased fasteners in the United States from Defendants from January 1, 1991, until September 19, 2007 (the “Class Period”). (Id. at ¶ 2.)

On August 12, 2011, we denied Defendants’ joint motion to dismiss. (ECF Nos. 92-93.) On August 6, 2012, we denied the YKK and Coats Defendants’ Motion to certify the order denying the motion to dismiss for interlocutory appeal. (See ECF Nos. 118, 119.)

On August 12, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a motion seeking preliminary approval of proposed settlements with the Prym, YKK, and Coats Defendants, and seeking authorization to disseminate notice to the settlement class. (Mot. Prelim. Approval, ECF No. 124.) Attached as exhibits to Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary approval were the proposed settlement agreements with the Prym, YKK, and Coats Defendants. (Agreements, Mot. Prelim. Approval Exs. 1-3.)

On August 26, 2013, we granted Plaintiffs’ motion. (Order Prelim. Approval, ECF No. 126.) In our Order, we stated that the “proposed settlements with Prym, YKK and Coats, as set forth in the respective Settlement Agreements, subject to final determination following proper notice and a fairness hearing, are sufficiently fair, reasonable and adequate to authorize dissemination of notice to the proposed settlement class (the “Settlement Class”). (Id. at ¶ 2.)

We defined the Settlement Class as:

All persons and entities who purchased Fasteners in the United States directly from a Defendant during the period from and including January 1, 1991 to an including September 19, 2007. Excluded from the Class are Defendants and their predecessors, successors, parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, divisions and governmental entities.

(Id.) The Preliminary Approval Order also appointed class representatives, appointed Co-Lead Counsel to represent the Settlement Class, approved the form and content of the Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class Action with the Prym, YKK and Coats Defendants and Hearing on Settlement Approval and Claim Form (“Notice”), and directed that the Notice be sent to all members of the settlement class, be posted on the internet, and be advertised in the Wall Street Journal. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-11.) Finally, the Preliminary Approval Order scheduled a fairness hearing for January 10, 2014, in order to, among other things, “determine the fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the proposed settlements with Prym, YKK and Coats . . . .” (Id. at ¶ 18.)

Pursuant to the Preliminary Approval Order, on October 25, 2013, counsel for the Settlement Class directed a printing company to mail, by first class mail, postage prepaid, 32, 359 copies of the Notice to potential Settlement Class members. Notice of the proposed settlement was also published in the Wall Street Journal on November 7, 2013, and posted on a website, www.FastenersAntitrustLitigation.com. (Cert. of Mailing, ECF No. 131; see also Class Counsel’s Report, ECF No. 132.)

The Notice to the Settlement Class advised that any objection to the proposed settlement, to the plan of distribution, or to Plaintiffs’ counsel’s application for fees, litigation costs, and incentive awards, had to be filed with the Clerk by December 15, 2013. (Class Counsel’s Report 2.) There were no objections filed by any potential Settlement Class members. The Notice to the Settlement Class also advised that requests for exclusion from the Settlement Class had to be sent to Settlement Class counsel no later than December 15, 2013. (Id.)[3] Settlement Class Counsel received one timely request for exclusion from American Soccer Company, Inc. (d/b/a Score Sports).

On November 25, 2013, class counsel filed the instant Motion for Final Approval of Proposed Settlements with the Prym, YKK and Coats Defendants and Plaintiff’s Proposed Plan for Distribution of Settlement Funds. (Pls.’ Mot., ECF No. 128.)[4]

A fairness hearing was held on January 10, 2014. Arguments for approval of the proposed settlement and for the award of counsel fees were heard at that time. (Jan. 10, 2014 Hr’g Tr. (on file with Court); Min Entry, ECF No. 133.)

B. The Proposed Settlement Agreements

The Settlement Agreements each provide for the resolution of this multi-district litigation. Pursuant to the proposed settlements, the Prym, YKK, and Coats Defendants will make payments totaling $17.55 million. The Prym Defendants will make a payment of $1.1 million, the YKK Defendants will make a payment of $6.6 million, and the Coats Defendants will make a payment of $9.85 million. (Agreements.) Each Defendant has already made these required payments into an escrow account that has been accruing interest.

Shortly after the Court entered a case management order in August of 2009, Plaintiffs began “protracted settlement negotiations” with Prym, which culminated in a March 2, 2010 settlement agreement. Pursuant to the agreement, Prym agreed to pay 1.1 million and to assist Plaintiffs in the prosecution of their claims against the other Defendants. The settlement agreements with the Prym, YKK, and Coats Defendants all contain cooperation provisions, which require Defendants to cooperate in the prosecution of the claims against remaining Defendants. (Pls.’ Mot. 5-6.) In exchange for the settlement payments and cooperation agreements, all class members, including Plaintiffs, provide a release to Defendants of certain claims related to the purchase of fasteners.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

According to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(e), “[t]he claims, issues, or defenses of a certified class may be settled, voluntarily dismissed, or compromised only with the court’s approval.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e). To approve a class action settlement, a court must determine that the settlement is “fair, adequate, and reasonable.” Eichenholtz v. Brennan, 52 F.3d 478, 482 (3d Cir. 1995). The district court has discretion to approve a class action settlement. In re SFBC Int’l Inc., Sec & Derivative Litig., 310 F. App’x 556, 557 (3d Cir. 2009). A court makes this determination after holding a formal fairness hearing at which the proponents of the settlement “should explain why the proposed settlement is preferable . . . to continuation of the litigation.” David F. Herr, Annotated Manual for Complex Litigation (Fourth) § 13.14 (2013). Moreover, the proponents of the proposed settlement bear the burden of establishing that it is fair, adequate, and reasonable. In re Gen. Motors Corp. Pick-Up Truck Fuel Tank Prods. Liab. Litig., 55 F.3d 768, 785 (3d Cir. 1995).

In determining whether a settlement is fair, adequate, and reasonable, district courts must consider nine factors articulated by the Third Circuit in Girsh v. Jepson, 521 F.2d 153 (3rd Cir. 1975). The Girsh factors are:

(1) the complexity, expense and likely duration of the litigation;
(2) the reaction of the class to the settlement;
(3) the stage of the proceedings and the amount of discovery completed;
(4) the risks of establishing liability;
(5) the risks of establishing damages;
(6) the risks of maintaining the class action through the trial;
(7) the ability of the defendants to withstand a greater judgment;
(8) the range of reasonableness of the settlement fund in light of the best possible recovery; and
(9) the range of reasonableness of the settlement fund in light of all the attendant risks of litigation.

In re Cendant Corp. Litig., 264 F.3d 201, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Girsh, 521 F.2d at 157).

“In more recent decisions, the Third Circuit has suggested an expansion of the nine-prong test when appropriate to include what are now referred to as the Prudential considerations.” In re Flonase Antitrust Litig., No. 08-3149, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83976, at *6 (E.D. Pa. June 14, 2013). The Prudential considerations include:

the maturity of the underlying substantive issues, as measured by experience in adjudicating individual actions, the development of scientific knowledge, the extent of discovery on the merits, and other facts that bear on the ability to assess the probable outcome of a trial on the merits of liability and individual damages; the existence and probable outcome of claims by other classes and subclasses; the comparison between the results achieved by the settlement for individual class or subclass members and the results achieved—or likely to be achieved—for other claimants; whether class or subclass members are accorded the right to opt out of the settlement; whether any provisions for attorneys’ fees are reasonable; and whether the procedure for processing individual claims under the settlement is fair and reasonable.

Id. at *6-7 (quoting In re Prudential Ins. Co. of Am. Sales Practice Litig., 148 F.3d 283, 323 (3d Cir. 1998)); see also In re Pet Food Prods. Liab. Litig., 629 F.3d 333, 350 (3d Cir. 2010).

District courts are required to make findings with respect to each of the Girsh factors. In re Pet Foods, 629 F.3d at 350. Consideration of the Prudential factors, however, is not mandatory. Id. Instead, the Prudential factors are “illustrative of additional inquiries that in many instances will be useful for a thoroughgoing analysis of a settlement’s terms.” Id. at 350; see also In re Baby Prods. Antitrust Litig., 708 F.3d 163, 174 (3d Cir. 2013) (noting that the Prudential factors “are permissive and non-exhaustive”). The Third Circuit has cautioned that district courts should not “substitute the parties’ assurances or conclusory statements for [the district court’s] independent analysis of the settlement terms.” In re Pet Foods, 629 F.3d at 350-51. However, in light of the overriding public interest in settling class actions, weight should be given to the recommendations of experienced attorneys “who have engaged in arms-length settlement negotiations.” In re Automotive Refinishing Paint Antitrust Litig., 617 F.Supp.2d 336, 341 (E.D. Pa. 2007); see also In re Imprelis Herbicide Mktg., No. 11-2284, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 149323, at *24-25 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 17, 2013) (“[B]ecause a settlement represents the result of a process by which opposing parties attempt to weigh and balance the factual and legal issues that neither side chooses to risk taking to final resolution, courts have given considerable weight to the views of experienced counsel as to the merits of a settlement.”); Lake v. First Nationwide Bank, 900 F.Supp. 726, 732 (E.D. Pa. 1995) (“Significant weight should be attributed to the belief of experienced counsel that settlement is in the best interest of the class.”) (internal quotation omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Certification of Class

Before considering whether the settlements are fair and reasonable, we must determine whether the proposed settlement class satisfies the class certification requirements of Rules 23(a) and 23(b). In re Pet Foods, 629 F.3d at 341.

1.Rule 23(a)

Rule 23(a) contains four threshold requirements for class certification:
(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members ...

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