Daily Archives: February 19, 2013

Minnesota Lodestar Fees in Consumer Protection cases

On February 13th, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the lodestar method must be used when determining attorney fees in consumer protection cases.

An unanimous Minnesota Supreme Court in Green v. BMW of N. Am., A11-0581 (Minn. Feb. 13, 2013), ruled that the lodestar method applies for the attorney fee calculation under Minnesota’s lemon law.  In addition, the Minnesota Supreme Court stated that courts must consider, among other factors, the amount involved in the litigation and the results obtained.

In the Green case, the district court issued a verdict in favor of Green and awarded her $25,157 in damages.  The district court also granted attorney fees and costs in the amount of $229,064.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed.  The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the decision, and remanded.

When determining the appropriate amount for fees – the court did not consider any other factors, other than the reasonableness of the fees.  The court heavily relied on the policy behind the fee-shifting provisions.  The court explained that the purpose of fee-shifting provisions was to provide incentives for attorneys to take these types of cases.

The district court did not award fees under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act because the court did not allow for double recovery.

The Supreme Court reversed the fees decision because the lodestar method should have been applied.  Under Minnesota’s Lemon Law, Minn. Stat. 325F.665, subd. 9, consumers “may bring a civil action to enforce” the lemon law and “recover costs and disbursements, including reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in the civil action.”

The Supreme Court explained that Minnesota courts have consistently used the lodestar method for determining the reasonableness of fees.  In fact, courts have used the lodestar method in numerous settings, including MFLSA, MHRA, Minnesota Securities Act, and in polygraph testing.  Given the broad application of lodestar, the Supreme Court held that applying lodestar in consumer protection cases was appropriate.

When applying the lodestar method, courts must first determine the number of hours reasonably expended and multiply those hours by a reasonable hourly rate.  When determining “the reasonable value of legal services,” the court must consider “all relevant circumstances.”  The Supreme Court explained,

The circumstances that inform a court’s “determine[ation of] reasonableness include ‘the time and labor required; the nature and difficulty of the responsibility assumed; the amount involved and the results obtained; the fees customarily charged for similar legal services; the experience, reputation, and ability of counsel; and the fee arrangement existing between counsel and the client.'”

The Supreme Court rejected the argument that the “amount involved” was confined to a consideration of the amount involved only as it relates to a prevailing party’s percentage of success.  The Supreme Court held that courts look “to both the amount involved and the results obtained.” (emphasis in original).

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Filed under Appellate, attorneys, civil rights, courts, District Court, fees, legal decision, Minnesota, Supreme Court, taxable costs

NLRB Overrules Anheuser-Busch, Favors Balancing Test on Witness Statements

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Piedmont Gardens, 359 NLRB No. 46, overruled a 36-year-old “bright-line rule” that denied labor organization representatives access to witness statements obtained by unionized employers, finding NLRB should balance the interests of unions and employers in assessing union requests for the names or statements of witnesses interviewed during a company investigation.

By overruling Anheuser-Busch, 237 NLRB 982 (1978), and applying instead the Detroit Edison balancing test, the NLRB found that respondents violated the NLRA by failing to provide the witness statements.  In the Detroit Edison balancing test, the board will balance the union’s need for relevant information against the legitimate and substantial employer’s interest in keeping information confidential.

via Adjunct Law Prof Blog: NLRB Overrules Anheuser-Busch Precedent, Favors Balancing Test on Witness Statements.

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Campaign donation issue reopened

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, 12-536.   The gist of this case deals with the constitutionality of the two-year ceilings that federal law sets on what an individual can give during a campaign for the presidency or Congress, in donations to candidates, to political parties, or to other political committees.

The Supreme Court did not explicitly promise whether it would reconsider its decision in Buckley v. Valeo (1976).  Since Buckley, the government had more leeway to control contributions to candidates or political organizations than over spending by candidates or by independent political activists.

In 2010, the Supreme Court decided a hotly controversial decision in Citizens United v. FEC.  In Citizens United, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional any limit on spending during federal campaigns by corporations or labor unions, so long as they spent the money independently of a candidate or candidate organization.

In McCutcheon, McCutcheon wants to be able to give more contributions than the two-year overall limits.  McCutcheon’s contributions, if he could go over the limit, would have exceeded the two-year ceiling by $26,200.

Under federal law, the ceiling for the 2011-2012 campaign season was $2,500 per election to any candidate or a candidate’s campaign organization, no more than $30,800 per year to a national political party, no more than $10,000 per year to a state political party, and no more than $5,000 to any other political committee.

The two year ceiling for that same period, which is the issue in this case, is set at $177,000 overall.  That is broken down into $46,200 to a candidate for federal office and $70,800 to non-candidate entities.  The second amount was restricted in that no more than $46,200 could be given to a state party or a non-candidate committee.

via Campaign donation issue reopened : SCOTUSblog.

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Donning and Doffing: paying for changing “work clothes”?

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide the Donning and Doffing issue as, how does Section 203(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) define “changing clothes.”

In Sandifer v. U.S. Steel, a class of 800 members filed a collective action against U.S. Steel Corp.  The issue on the 7th Circuit Court was whether workers deserved overtime pay for the time spent changing into work clothes and walking from locker rooms to their work site.

The FLSA ordinarily requires that workers be paid at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked, and time and a half for hours worked over 40 hours in a week.  However, Section 203(o) provides that any time spent changing “clothes” at the beginning or end of each workday may be excluded from working time by the express terms of, or custom or practice under, a bona fide collective bargaining agreement.  In Sandifer, the collective bargaining agreement did not require compensation for changing time.

In this collective action, the class argued that Section 203(o) exclusion was inapplicable because their work attire did not constitute “clothes,” but rather “safety equipment.”  The alleged work clothes in this case included: flame-retardant pants and jacket, work gloves, metatarsal boots, hard hats, safety glasses, ear plugs, and a “snood” (a hood that covers the top of the head, the chin, and the neck).

The district court held that the FLSA did not require compensation for clothes-changing time.  The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.  The 7th Circuit explained that the articles seems to be clothing.  The 7th Circuit stated that the articles of clothing were both, clothing and personal protective equipment,

Protection – against sun, cold, wind, blisters, stains, insect bites, and being spotted by animals that one is hunting – is a common function of clothing, and an especially common function of work clothes worn by factory workers.  It would be absurd to exclude all work clothes that have a protective function… and thus limit the exclusion largely to actors’ costumes and waiters’ and doormen’s uniforms.  Remember that the section covers not only clothes-changing time but also washing-up time, and workers who wear work clothes for self-protection in a dangerous or noxious work environment are far more likely to require significant time for washing up after work than a waiter.”

(emphasis added).

In addition, the 7th Circuit relied heavily on the fact that the collective bargaining agreement did not imply that workers were to be compensated for the time spent changing into work clothes, and washing up and changing back.

via Courthouse News Service.

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