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Haas v. Burlington County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 24, 2019

TAMMY MARIE HAAS and CONRAD SZCZPANIAK, individually and on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals, Plaintiffs,
v.
BURLINGTON COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          CARL D. POPLAR CARL D. POPLAR, P.A. WILLIAM A. RIBACK WILLIAM RIBACK, LLC DAVID J. NOVACK BUDD LARNER, PC Attorneys for Plaintiffs Tammy Marie Haas and Conrad Szczpaniak, individually and on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals.

          EVAN H.C. CROOK APEHART & SCATCHARD, P.A. Attorneys for Defendants Burlington County, Burlington County Correctional Facility, and Ronald Cox.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         As the Court writes primarily for the parties, who are undoubtedly familiar with the facts and procedural history of this ten-plus-year-old case, the Court sets forth only those facts necessary to deciding the present motions before it.

         This Court is called upon to resolve three motions, all relating to how the attorneys’ fees and costs previously approved by this Court will be apportioned amongst Class Counsel.[1] After Class Counsel could not agree upon how to divide the fee awarded, they submitted dueling fee applications asking the Court to decide the issue for them. (Docket Nos. 364 and 366). This Court referred those motions to Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider for issuance of a report and recommendation on the appropriate division of fees amongst counsel (the “Report and Recommendation” or “R&R”). (Docket No. 441). Attorney Carl D. Poplar has lodged objections to the Report and Recommendation, which the Court now addresses. (Docket No. 442).

         I. Background

         In this long-standing class action, Plaintiffs allege that their constitutional rights were violated when they were strip searched at the Burlington County Jail in or around 2006 and 2008. After this Court granted class certification, the parties resolved this matter by way of settlement, which the Court approved on January 31, 2019. (Docket No. 356; Docket No. 383).

         In addition to the $1, 475, 000 settlement fund established as part of the global resolution, Defendants agreed to pay $900, 000 in attorneys’ fees and an additional $25, 000 in costs. Thereafter, pursuant to Rule 23(h) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Class Counsel applied to the Court for an award of attorneys’ fees and costs. In rendering final approval of the settlement, this Court analyzed Class Counsel’s fee application and determined that an award of $925, 000, inclusive of fees and costs, was reasonable under the circumstances. (Docket No. 382 at 21-25).

         Thereafter, at the urging of the Court, the parties entered into negotiations about how they would share the fee award. Due to disagreements regarding allocation, Magistrate Judge Schneider mediated with the parties in an effort to facilitate a resolution. Despite Magistrate Judge Schneider’s efforts, counsel could not reach an agreement.

         On May 3, 2019, Magistrate Judge Schneider issued a non-binding, comprehensive report recommending to the parties an allocation for the $925, 000 in attorneys’ fees and costs. (Docket No. 395). After meticulously explaining the basis for his recommendation, Magistrate Judge Schneider recommended the Poplar Group receive 82.5% of the $900, 000 fee ($742, 500) plus $20, 068 in costs, while the Novack Group receive 17.5% of the fee ($157, 500) plus $4, 931.20 in costs. (Docket No. 395 at 22).

         With the benefit of Judge Schneider’s written analysis, on May 15, 2019, this Court held a settlement conference in a further attempt to resolve the disputes plaguing Class Counsel. While progress was made towards a resolution, no settlement was ever reached. (Docket No. 430).

         After it was clear the parties were unable to mediate or otherwise resolve their disagreements, on August 27, 2019, this Court ordered that the May 3, 2019 report be reissued as a report and recommendation consistent with the Federal and Local Civil Rules. (Docket No. 440). The formal Report and Recommendation was filed by Judge Schneider on September 3, 2019. (Docket No. 441).

         On September 17, 2019, Mr. Poplar filed objections to the Report and Recommendation. No. other objections have been lodged. See (Docket No. 443).

         II. Summary of Findings Contained in the Report ...


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