Four Florida Judges Relieved That The Final Chapter Has Come To A Close.
This next story is truly a saga stemming out of the Florida “Engle progeny litigation,” as reported in a July 25, 2018 Reuters post by Alison Frankel which we now summarize.
The Engle progeny litigation stemmed from a long-ago Florida class action against tobacco companies for smoking-related ailments, where the Florida Supreme Court decertified a class but gave individual plaintiffs one year to file their own suits in which they would have to prove the tobacco industry’s negligence and cigarette’s carcinogenicity. This spawned the Engle progeny suits filed in both Florida federal and state courts. The Wilner Firm filed about 3,700 Engle progeny suits, with Farah & Farah firm co-counseling on about 160 of them. Two other firms were involved in federal Engle progency class action litigation with Wilner and Farah. But there was a major problem.
Four Florida federal judges presiding over the matters found that 1,250 cases filed by Wilner and Farah were frivolous, another 15 cases were never authorized by plaintiffs (one of whom attended jury duty in another tobacco personal injury case and said she had told plaintiffs’ attorneys years ago that she didn’t want to sue), 28 plaintiffs had resolved their claims by the time that suits were filed anyway, 36 plaintiffs did not live in Florida, 18 didn’t smoke, and 588 cases were filed after plaintiffs died. Eventually, Wilner and Farah (but not the other two participating firms in the class action) were sanctioned $9.2 million for the frivolous suits, which was ordered to be transferred to the court from a $45 million fee settlement fund for the federal Engle progeny class action litigation in which a total settlement of $100 million was reached.
After Wilner and Farah objected to the sanctions order, as well as battled with other counsel on how to split the fee fund, Wilner and Farah reached a settlement through the efforts of U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony Porcelli, a settlement endorsed also by the other two firms. However, there is a big contingency—the federal courts had to cut the $9.2 sanctions award to $4.3 million and return the remaining $4.8 million to the fee settlement fund.
Thankfully, this settlement recently was approved such that the net result is this: Wilner and Farah “walk away” with only $4.3 million in fees ($8.6 million was their share of the negotiated fees in the settlement, minus the $4.3 million in sanctions—even though they expected to receive $15.7 million in fees except for the complications), they effectively pay $4.3 million in sanctions, and the reduced sanctions amount of $4.8 million—which was held by the court—went back to the settlement fund to be divided by the non-sanctioned firms.
I guess we can only parrot the ultimate settlement approval language in this epic story used by the federal judges supervising it: “Nearly nine years ago the federal Engle litigation saga began. It has now, mercifully, run its tortured course, approaching its apparent end.”