University of Southern California

"Fair, Reasonable, and Adequate" According to Who? Cy Pres Distributions That Result in Cheap Settlements and Generous Attorney Fees, but No Financial Benefit to Class Members

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Postscript (Response) by Linda Sandstrom Simard
July, 2015

88 S. Cal. L. Rev. Postscript 55

In her recent article, Professor Rhonda Wasserman argues that class action settlements that distribute funds cy pres raise a very serious risk of prejudice to absent class members. The problem, she asserts, is the temptation for class counsel to sell out the interests of absent class members in exchange for a discounted settlement for the defendant and a generous fee for class counsel. To illustrate her concern, she cites the $9.5 million settlement in Lane v. Facebook, Inc.that directed approximately $6.5 million to a nascent charity that was controlled—at least partially—by the defendant, $3 million to class counsel and nothing to the three million absent class members. Professor Wasserman argues that courts cannot have a laissez faire attitude toward protecting absent class members and she proposes a number of procedural reforms to ensure that cy pres distributions are only used when absolutely necessary. While her proposals are likely to provoke increased judicial scrutiny of cy pres distributions, the article stops short of addressing the principal question: when, if ever, is a settlement that distributes funds cy pres “fair, reasonable and adequate” to the absent class members?

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