U.S. appeals court questions $185 mln award to law firm Quinn Emanuel

  • Quinn partner apologized at one point after judge questioned tone
  • UnitedHealthcare and other objectors have called awarded fee "astronomical"

(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Monday appeared poised to thwart a $185 million legal fee award to law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, as a judge questioned the lower court's order and also criticized an attorney at the firm for what she called an "aggressive" tone.

Partner Derek Shaffer appeared before the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to defend a lower court judge's fee award for the firm's work on behalf of a class of healthcare insurers that received $3.7 billion in a high-profile settlement with the U.S. government.

UnitedHealthcare Inc and other class objectors have called Quinn Emanuel's fee "untenable" and "astronomical" and urged the appeals court to strike it down.

During argument, the appeals court appeared concerned by what appeared to be the Federal Claims judge not performing a “lodestar cross-check,” which involves a review of hourly rates and the number of hours worked on a case. “You put the world on notice. There will be a lodestar cross-check. She didn't do it,” Chief Judge Kimberly Moore told Shaffer.

At another point, Moore interrupted Shaffer.

"Counsel, I'm trying to ... figure out to myself why you're ... pointing your finger at us and sort of yelling at the court," Moore remarked. She added: "It's your money. If I had $187 million [sic] on the line, I'd probably lose my cool a little bit, too — so go for it."

Shaffer apologized at the hearing. Afterward, he declined to comment.

Shaffer argued his firm took a risk in pursuing claims against the U.S. government with no guarantee of success or compensation. The U.S., he said, "is not a defendant who is likely to settle — this is not a defendant who fears being subjected" to a multibillion-dollar penalty.

A lawyer who argued for the fee challengers, Moe Keshavarzi of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The class objectors have suggested about $8.8 million would be more appropriate.

The appeals court panel also included Circuit Judges Richard Taranto and Raymond Chen.

The case is Health Republic Insurance Co v. United States, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No. 22-1018.

For plaintiffs: Derek Shaffer of Quinn Emanuel

For objecting class members: Moe Keshavarzi of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton

Read more:

In Facebook antitrust case, Quinn Emanuel feuds with rival law firm over leadership role

Quinn Emanuel defends its $185 mln fee in Obamacare litigation

Health insurers balk at Quinn Emanuel's 'astronomical' $185 million fee award

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