Class action objector Ted Frank says lawyers ask him to intervene in cases

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REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Frank says in court papers that Perkins Coie partner contacted him about a case
  • Details stem from fight over objection in Neuriva class action

(Reuters) - An attorney known for bringing objections to class action settlements said he is routinely contacted by other lawyers encouraging him to intervene in cases, hoping he’ll throw a wrench in a planned settlement.

Ted Frank, the director of litigation at the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute and the founder of the Center for Class Action Fairness, has made a name for himself backing objections to settlements that he says provide little to class members and too much to their attorneys.

That work has drawn the ire of plaintiffs’ and defense attorneys alike, but Frank revealed in a recent court filing that lawyers also contact him to flag settlements for an attack.

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The emails and letters arrive at least once a year, sometimes from anonymous senders, Frank said in the 76-page filing. In one instance in 2013, a Perkins Coie partner whom Frank said he didn’t know sent him a message encouraging him to file an amicus brief opposing an attorney fee request in a settlement involving a firm client – even offering to share the fee petition with Frank early, he said. Frank didn't name the attorney.

A representative for Perkins Coie did not respond to requests for comment about the anecdote.

Frank said in the filing that the messages don’t necessarily drive him to look at the cases, unless the objection deadline is imminent or the settlement website is easy to find.

“It’s never clear to me whether such attorneys are trying to set me up, set up a plaintiffs’ attorney they’re mad at, set up a defense attorney they’re mad at, or set up a defendant they’re mad at,” Frank said.

Frank’s comments came in a sworn declaration he submitted in a class action against supplement maker Reckitt Benckiser LLC that claims the labeling on its Neuriva brain performance supplements is misleading. Although Frank typically represents settlement objectors through the Center for Class Action Fairness, this time an attorney represented Frank as the objector himself.

Frank has criticized the settlement that creates an $8 million fund to cover refunds for customers who can provide proof of purchase and changes the Neuriva labeling from saying “clinically proven” to “clinically tested.” He said it does little more than pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys $2.9 million in fees.

Reckitt Benckiser, represented by Perkins Coie, hit back at Frank’s objection, accusing Frank of buying Neuriva after learning about the settlement so he could object. David Biderman, a partner at Perkins Coie representing Reckitt Benckiser, declined to comment.

A magistrate judge overseeing the case asked Frank to submit briefing on whether a court had ever struck his objections or had sanctioned him at any point in the last decade.

Frank, who said he heard about the settlement before buying Neuriva, told the judge that no district court had ever denied a motion to object filed by one of his clients or his firms' clients. He also said neither he nor the organizations he works with have ever been sanctioned.

He cited several cases where his work has been praised by judges or he was awarded fees for his role in policing settlements.

"It's disappointing that Perkins Coie recruits me to object when they think its the right thing to do, and then they make these false personal attacks against me," Frank told Reuters.

In response to Frank's filing, Reckitt Benckiser accused him of leaving out a court's ruling holding that one of his objecting clients lacked standing. Frank told Reuters he needs to correct his statement to mention one instance in which a judge found that his client did not have standing, a ruling he says was incorrect.

The judge overseeing the case has yet to rule on approval of the settlement, or Frank’s ability to object.

Some of Frank's other recent involvement in settlements include Hamilton Lincoln's objections brought in March on behalf of a group of Flint, Michigan, residents in litigation over the city's water crisis. Also in March, Hamilton Lincoln and Frank represented another Hamilton Lincoln attorney who objected to a settlement over claims Monsanto misleadingly marketed its weedkiller Roundup.

The case is Williams v. Reckitt Benckiser LLC, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, No. 1:20-cv-23564.

For Reckitt Benckiser: Lori Lustrin and Melissa Pallett-Vasquez of Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod; and David Biderman and Charles Sipos of Perkins Coie

For the class: Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman; Levin Papantonio Rafferty Proctor Buchanan O'Brien Barr Mougey; Shub Law Firm; and Barbat, Mansour, Suciu & Tomina

For Frank: Matthew Sarelson of Dhillon Law Group; and Frank Bednarz of Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute Center for Class Action Fairness

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