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Rajagopalan v. Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

October 10, 2017

AMRISH RAJAGOPALAN, MARIE JOHNSON-PEREDO, ROBERT HEWSON, DONTE CHEEKS, DEBORAH HORTON, RICHARD PIERCE, ERMA SUE CLYATT, ROBERT JOYCE, AMY JOYCE, ARTHUR FULLER, DAWN MEADE, WAHAB EKUNSUMI, KAREN HEA, ALEX CASIANO, DECEMBER GUZZO, BEN PARKER, CHERYL ANDERSON, CARMEN ALFONSO, BETH JUNGEN, TANYA GWATHNEY, KEVIN DELOACH, SCOTT SNOEK, KELLY ENDERS, THOMAS LUDWICK, DONALD BOGAN, BILL KRUSE, JOYCE DRUMMOND, TAMARA COOPER, DEBRA MILLER, GEORGE LAWRENCE, CYNTHIA OXENDINE, MARTFN ANDERSON, ANGELA ROSS, ANDREA TOPPS, DEBRA FINAZZO, SHARRON BLACK, SYLVIA HADCOCK, AUDRIE LAWRENCE POOLE, ADAM WARD, ISHULA MCCONNELL, ERICA CHASE, STEPHEN YOUNKINS, DAN WEDDLE, STILLMAN PARKER, TINA ROBERTS-ASHBY, BRANDON ASHBY, VALERIE NEWSOME, AND RUSSEL TANNER, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated. Plaintiffs,
v.
FIDELITY AND DEPOSIT COMPANY OF MARYLAND, as Surety for Meracord LLC, Defendant.

          HAGENS BERMAN SOBOL SHAPIRO LLP, Steve W. Berman, WSBA #12536 Thomas E. Loeser, WSBA, THE PAYNTER LAW FIRM PLLC, Stuart M. Paynter (pro hac vice), Celeste H.G. Boyd (pro hac vice), Attorneys for Plaintiffs

          ORDER GRANTING FINAL APPROVAL OF CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT

          BENJAMIN H. SETTLE, United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Final Approval of Class Action Settlement, [1] filed September 14, 2017 ("Final Approval Motion"), and Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees, Expenses, and Incentive Awards ("Fee Motion"). Plaintiffs and Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland ("F&D" or "Settling Defendant") entered into a Class Action Settlement Agreement and Release, dated April 20, 2017 ("the Settlement Agreement" or "the Settlement"), to settle the above-captioned lawsuit, as well as the actions captioned Rajagopalan, et al. v. Fidelity and Deposit Co. of Maryland, No. 3:16-cv-05739-BHS (W.D. Wash., Filed August 31, 2016), and Cheeks v. Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland and Platte River Ins. Co., as sureties for Meracord LLC, No. 4:13-cv-01854-DMR (N.D. Cal., Filed April 23, 2013) (collectively, the "Lawsuits"). The Settlement Agreement sets forth the terms and conditions for a proposed Settlement and dismissal with prejudice of F&D from the Lawsuits.

         The Court has carefully considered the Final Approval Motion, Fee Motion, and the associated Declarations; the Settlement Agreement; the objections thereto by Helen Donovan and Audrey Garduno; the arguments of counsel; and the record in this case, and is otherwise advised in the premises. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED AND ADJUDGED:

         1. The Court hereby gives its final approval to the Settlement, finding that the Settlement is sufficiently fair, reasonable, and adequate; and that adequate notice was given to Settlement Class Members in accordance with the Settlement Agreement and the Court's Order preliminarily approving the Settlement. The Settlement Agreement is hereby incorporated by reference in this Order, and all terms and phrases used in this Order shall have the same meaning as in the Settlement Agreement.

         2. Pursuant to Rule 23(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court approves the Settlement set forth in the Settlement Agreement, and finds that the Settlement Agreement is, in all respects, fair, reasonable, and adequate, and in the best interests of, the Plaintiffs, the Settlement Class, and each of the Settlement Class Members, and is consistent and in compliance with all requirements of due process and federal law. This Court further finds that the Settlement is the result of arm's-length negotiations between experienced counsel representing the interests of the Plaintiffs, the Settlement Class Members, and the Settling Defendant. The Court further finds that the Parties have evidenced full compliance with the Court's Preliminary Approval Order. The Settlement shall be consummated pursuant to the terms of the Settlement Agreement, which the parties are hereby directed to perform.

         3. This Court has personal jurisdiction over all Settlement Class Members and subject matter jurisdiction to approve the Settlement Agreement.

         4. The Court confirms its previous certification of the following Settlement Class, for settlement purposes only, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3):

All persons who had an account at Meracord from which Meracord deducted any fees related to debt settlement services (including mortgage assistance relief services) and who, while residing in a Settlement State, made payments to such account within the State Settlement Period of their state of residence.[2]

         Excluded from the Class are the Released Parties, Platte River, and Meracord, as well as their officers and directors, members of their immediate families and their legal representatives, heirs, successors, or assigns, and any entity in which any Released Parties, Platte River, or Meracord has or had a controlling interest.

         5. The Court finds that (a) Members of the Settlement Class are so numerous as to make joinder of all Settlement Class Members impracticable; (b) there are questions of law or fact common to Members of the Settlement Class; (c) the claims of the Plaintiffs are typical of the claims of the Settlement Class Members; (d) Plaintiffs and Class Counsel will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the Settlement Class Members; (e) questions of law or fact common to the Settlement Class Members predominate over questions affecting only individual Settlement Class Members; and (f) a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.

         6. Class Notice.

         The Court finds that the notice program, previously approved by the Court in its Preliminary Approval Order, has been implemented and complies with Fed.R.Civ.P. 23. The Court finds that the Class Notice plan as performed by the Administrator and Class Counsel-including the form, content, and method of dissemination of the Class Notice to Settlement Class Members as described in the Settlement Agreement-(1) is the best practicable notice; (2) is reasonably calculated, under the circumstances, to apprise Settlement Class Members of the pendency of the Lawsuits and of their right to object to and/or exclude themselves from the proposed Settlement; (3) is reasonable and constitutes due, adequate, and sufficient notice to all Persons entitled to receive notice; and (4) meets all applicable requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 and due process. The Court further finds that the procedures followed by the Administrator for identifying current addresses and email addresses for potential Settlement Class Members constituted an appropriate and sufficient effort to locate potential Settlement Class Members for notice purposes. The Administrator successfully delivered direct notice to 97% of the Settlement Class-well within the range of a reasonable "reach rate."

         7. Rule 23 requires that class notice "must clearly and concisely state in plain, easily understood language: (i) the nature of the action; (ii) the definition of the class certified; (iii) the class claims, issues, or defenses; (iv) that a class member may enter an appearance through an attorney if the member so desires; (v) that the court will exclude from the class any member who requests exclusion; (vi) the time and manner for requesting exclusion; and (vii) the binding effect of a class judgment on members under Rule 23(c)(3)." Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(2)(B). The Court finds that the Long-Form Notice, previously approved by the Court, contained detailed information regarding the Settlement meeting those requirements.

         8. Plan of Allocation.

         The Court finds that the Plan of Allocation as set forth in the Settlement Agreement is fair, reasonable, and adequate. The Plan of Allocation provides monetary recovery to Settlement Class Members on a pro rata basis in proportion to the Total Unreturned Fees paid from each Settlement Class Member's Meracord account. See In re Oracle Sees. Litig., 1994 WL 502054, at *1 (N.D. Cal. June 18, 1994) ("A plan of allocation that reimburses class members based on the extent of their injuries is generally reasonable."). The Court also notes that there is no ...


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