Banking/Litigation Research

Part
01
of four
Part
01

Class Action Litigation Settlements

While there is no publicly available information to fully answer your question, we have used the available data to pull together key findings. The last class action litigation settlement in the US that had issues with transparency around how the money was distributed and/or lawyer fees was filed in 2011. Below you will find an outline of our research methodology to better understand why the information you have requested is publicly unavailable, as well as a deep dive into our findings.

2011 CLASS ACTION LITIGATION LAWSUIT

  • In 2011, the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System (ATRS) filed a class action litigation lawsuit was against State Street and Trust.
  • Labaton Sucharow LLP, Thornton Law Firm LLP, and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP served as the lead counsel for the plaintiff.
  • State Street Corp. had acted as custodian bank for public pension funds and was responsible for foreign exchange trading.
  • The company was accused of overcharging the pension fund clients.
  • In November 2016, the court approved a final settlement amounting to $300 million.
  • In March 2017, the court appointed a special master to "review the fee and expense application and to issue a report and recommendation" after being notified of "certain inadvertent errors in the motion for fees and expenses."
  • The dispute initially arose from a series of reports by Boston Globe where it questioned the accuracy of law firms' billing records and the suspicious payments where a lawyer called Michael Bradley was paid $500 an hour work totaling to $400,000.
  • The report revealed that Michael Bradley normally works at $53 per hour as a public defender.
  • Additionally, it was discovered that the lead counsel overstated the value of the work by 10% which the retired judge stated as a red flag.
  • Damon Chargois did not work on the case but served as an intermediary between Labaton and ATRS but received an undisclosed $4.1 million fee as payment.
  • It was revealed that the involvement of Chargois was concealed from other lawyers and most of the co-counsels.
  • A Columbia Law Professor stated that this kind of arrangement showed the shoddy market of "buying and selling plaintiffs in securities class actions" which was dubious and arranged under the table.
  • As of the latest report, Labaton Sucharow and the two law firms have agreed to return the $4.8 million to plaintiffs.
  • Additionally, as part of the agreement with Rosen, Labaton agreed to conduct internal reforms and compliance with the emerging best practices.
  • Labaton has also adopted the policy of banning bare referral practice with other lawyers.

RESEARCH STRATEGY

An examination of publicly accessible government databases such as United State Courts and Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) did not reveal any recent cases of settlement issues from class action lawsuits. The databases have provided several historical cases, but none occurred within the last 12 months.
An examination of articles published by general and legal publications such as Forbes, Legal Newsline, American Legal News, The Lawyer, and others also did not reveal any recent cases of settlement issues from class action lawsuits. The majority of the articles published over the past year contained only legal jargon related to class action lawsuits and settlement disputes. Additionally, we have also identified articles that provided updates on a class action lawsuit filed in 2011.
An examination of articles published by private law firms, law schools, and law-related associations also did not reveal any recent cases of settlement issues from class action lawsuits. These sources have provided several discussions on lawsuits but none occurred within the last 12 months. Some of the publications have also provided more information on the 2011 State Street lawsuit.

Part
02
of four
Part
02

Settlement Service Breaches

While information was mostly unavailable, between 2011 and 2014 Target, Yahoo, Verizon, and TD Bank were reported to have experienced data breaches.

Helpful Findings

  • In 2013, 3 billion Yahoo accounts were compromised, with data stolen including names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords and, in some cases, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers.
  • Yahoo and Verizon Communications Inc. have reported to have settled for a $117.5 million pay-out due to data breaches.
  • Target, Sony's PlayStation Network, and Home Depot are the top three data breaches based on the amount of monetary settlement each company had to pay.
  • In 2014, "a group of banks, credit unions and other financial institutions filed suit against the retailer in 2015, seeking payment for the cost of replacing credit and debit cards and reimbursing funds to customers who were allegedly victimized after a breach, which affected 8.1 million cards."
  • "After the retailer filed a motion to dismiss, parties entered mediation and negotiated a settlement. Pursuant to the agreement, the retailer will establish a $5.2 million settlement fund to be distributed to class members as well as pay attorneys’ fees and expenses. The company also agreed to change several practices related to data security."
  • "TD Bank has agreed to a multi-state settlement in the wake of a 2012 data breach involving the loss of two backup tapes that may have exposed personally identifiable information about 260,000 of the bank's 8 million U.S. customers."
  • In 2013, Target agreed to a settlement to compensate for the stolen information during the data breach. The settlement gave Target 180 days to “develop, implement, and maintain a comprehensive information security program,” but most of the changes that the settlement demands have already been adopted by the retailer.

Research Strategy:

In order to find security breaches in 2019 in the banking division' settlement services, we searched in reputable websites such as CNN, Csoonline, DigitalGuardian, Bankinfosecurity, CBSNews, Forbes, and the WSJ. Unfortunately, most of the discussed security breaches were too old, some dating back to before 2015.

We next went through the individual websites of various banks in the US such as JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and City Bank in order to find publications, articles, or reports of security breaches in 2019. Unfortunately, most of the reports talked about preventive actions that the banks took to avoid security breaches due to several instances of breaches prior to 2015


Part
03
of four
Part
03

Security Breaches-Other Banking Services

The security breaches in 2019 that targeted other banking services besides settlement services included an industry-wide breach in Australia that also potentially reached US account holders, a massive mortgage and loan data leak on Elasticsearch server, and a 733 million-record reach in January 2019.

Industry-wide breach in australia

  • Australia’s banks have started notifying customers in February 2019 that many of the accounts across different banks may have been included in an "industry-wide" data breach that involved an ASX-listed property valuation firm.
  • The main banks included in this breach are CBA, ANZ, and NAB.
  • The targeted accounts were mostly those regarding properties and affected property valuations.
  • According to the reports, some clients were international holders (including US properties) which is why the so-far estimated impact might also have a US reach.

Massive mortgage and loan data leak on elasticsearch server

  • In January 2019, millions of documents were leaked after an exposed Elasticsearch server was discovered without a password. The documents carried highly sensitive financial data regarding tens of thousands of private clients who took out loans or mortgages in the last ten years with U.S. financial institutions.
  • The leak was traced back to the Texas-based data and analytics company called Ascension.
  • The leaked data contained 23,000 pages of documents that carried borrowers’ very sensitive personal information which is the type of information that the borrowers would normally provide for obtaining a mortgage.
  • 24 million financial and banking documents, which represented tens of thousands of loans and mortgages that included some of the biggest banks in the U.S., had been found leaked online after a server security lapse. The security server in question was run on the Elasticsearch database and contained over 10 years of decade's worth of data.

773 million email addresses leaked

  • Also in January 2019, nearly 773 million records, which included email addresses and passwords for private bank accounts, were exposed in a series of data breaches. The leak was discovered by the security researcher Troy Hunt and security researchers at Krebs on Security.
  • The collection of files included the unique email addresses totaling at 772,904,991 different accounts.
  • According to Market Watch, millions of passwords get dumped online pretty often, and private clients are advised to turn on two-step verification of their email and banking accounts.

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

Settlement services are all services the banks provide that are related to "trade processing, which include matching of trade instructions, accepting / delivering shares from brokers / counter parties, payment transfers, and monitoring of pending trades with regular status reporting on all trade settlements and pending trades." Settlement services are primarily related to securities portfolio in terms of "payments/receipts on account of trade settlements, collection of dividends, interest payments and related expenses." On the other hand, other types of banking services include individual banking (such as Checking accounts, Savings accounts, Debit & credit cards, Insurance, and Wealth management), Business Banking (such as Business loans, Checking accounts, Savings accounts, Debit and credit cards, and Merchant services), Digital Banking (such as Online, mobile, and tablet banking, Mobile check deposit, Text alerts, eStatements, and Online bill pay), and Loans (Personal loans, Home equity loans, Home equity lines of credit, Home loans, and Business loans). For this research, we focused on security breaches in 2019 that targeted other banking services and excluded all security breaches targeting settlement services in the banking industry.
Part
04
of four
Part
04

Evolution of the Plaintiff's Lawyer or Firm

In 2018, most of the cases types handled by the plaintiff firms was related to securities class action settlements whereas in year 2009 the number of securities class action lawsuits declined.

CHANGES IN THE plaintiff's lawyer or firm

  • According to Stuart Grant of Grant & Eisenhofer; the Delaware shareholder litigation firm, in recent years “there’s definitely been a shift of who is been bringing these cases.” Additionally, there have been fewer promising cases recently, because the stock market has been mostly rising over the last few years and the increased vigilance of audit firms.
  • Stuart Grant stated that in the past few years' law advances have been substantially reversed, especially in the Delaware’s Supreme Court due to "erected ever-higher barriers to shareholder claims against corporations and their boards, particularly with respect to mergers and acquisitions.
  • In addition, Grant claimed that it seems to be the end of appraisal claims and arbitrage for now.
  • According to Steven Vasilaros, a personal injury plaintiff attorney in Florida “Technology changed the entire landscape”. Vasilaros said plaintiff firms have seen the largest change recently in the ability of lawyers to advertise using technology which has made the plaintiff field more manageable and raised the quality of legal services to all clients.
  • A 2012 LexisNexis report stated that Boris Feldman; a plaintiff firm claimed there have been changes in the plaintiffs' bar where in 2012 "there was a rise in multi-jurisdiction litigation, proliferation of demand letters, the rise of derivative litigation paralleling shareholder class action lawsuits along with the trend of automatic filing of litigation when a merger is announced and the rise in actions under Section 220 of the Delaware Code."
  • The current United States administration has presented challenges for plaintiff-side attorneys where in various cases Trump has intervened to engage in frivolous, retaliatory litigation. In addition, there was a noticeable reduction in class action lawsuits in 2017.
  • Also, there is likely to be more discussions on the fate of the Further Asbestos Claim Transparency Act "which requires public disclosures of payments made to plaintiff’s by the trusts that pay out asbestos exposure claims made against bankrupt companies" and restrictions on the transfer of federal cases to state courts.
  • Plaintiff firms have faced recent changes in plaintiff laws and reforms wherein changes to the threshold for motor vehicle accident claims are changing the landscape. Additionally, the government applied a deductible to claims that meet a threshold of $30,000 as at Aug. 1, 2015. However, the threshold has increased each year because of inflation.

Types of cases being handled AND CHANGES IN IT FROM PAST YEARS

  • The size of securities class action settlements rose significantly in 2018 compared to recent years.
  • The ISS Securities Class Action Services report states that the type of cases being handled by most plaintiff attorney's in 2018 includes "allegations of the employment of manipulative or deceptive practices, allegations relating to merger transactions, civil liabilities based on alleged false registration statements, allegations pertaining to GAAP reporting, initial public offerings, and public offerings."
  • In year 2009, the number of securities class action lawsuits declined and the media claimed this is because the plaintiffs are "running out of people to sue." Also, it was observed that because of diminished volatility in the stock market, plaintiff lawsuit fillings have reduced.
  • Most the cases that were handled in 2009 related to the backlog of cases for corporate litigation.
  • In 2017, the number of cases related to securities suit settlements by the plaintiff firms was reduced. In 2017, the aggregate amount of monetary shareholder recoveries was $2.1 billion compared to $7 billion recovered in 2016 and this was the lowest yearly total in more than 10 years.

How plaintiff's firms come to take on certain cases/class actions

  • According to Steven Vasilaros, in recent times more liberty is available for the lawyers to take by cases by advertising themselves and the advent of legal advertising has clearly revolutionized the legal world.
  • The ISS Securities top ranked plaintiff firm; Bernstein, Litowitz law firm advertises its expertise in securities litigation and presents its latest awards & recognition, and customer testimonials within its corporate brochure. Additionally, the company's website presents its past success track records from more than 20 years in the area of securities litigation.
  • Another ISS Securities top ranked plaintiff firm; Pomerantz, promotes its notable success records on their website related to achievements in securities litigation along with there settled cases details.

Insights regarding plaintiff law firm focus areas

  • The ISS Securities Class Action Services report presented two law firms whose total 2018 securities class action lawsuit settlements exceeded $1 billion; Pomerantz law firm with total of $3.272 billion in plaintiff settlements and Bernstein, Litowitz, with $1.351 billion in plaintiff settlements.
  • The focus areas of Pomerantz law firm are "securities litigation, antitrust litigation, corporate governance, and portfolio monitoring case evaluation."
  • The focus areas of Bernstein, Litowitz are "securities fraud litigation, corporate governance and shareholders rights litigation."

Research Strategy:

Insights related to the changes in the landscape of plaintiff's lawyer or firms, compared to the past and recent years were identified and presented here. However, particular statistics/data highlighting the percentage or number of changes relating to types of cases, focus area in the last 10 years could not be found.

In order to obtain the statistical data highlighting the evolution/changes in the plaintiff lawyer/firm, types of cases, and focus area, we started our research by looking through credible law reports from various legal news rooms and forums such as lexisnexis.com, dandodiary.com, and thelawyer.com. We also searched through media articles in sources such as entrepreneur.com, law.com, and CNBC. This search turned up relevant information for 2018, 2017 and 2009 but this information was very limited. The findings highlighted the types of cases being handled by the plaintiff lawyers in these years but did not provide enough hard statistics on how this has changed in the last 10 years.

We subsequently tried to locate research publications or reports by various law associations which might report on the changing landscape of the law fields including plaintiff. During this search, we looked at lawerlegion.com, americanbar.com, National Trial Lawyers, hg.org, and so on. Through this search, we found information related to plaintiff attorney and its scope of work along with certain changes in the lawsuits of Delaware. However, we were unable to find any relevant information related to the changes in the last 10 years in the plaintiff's lawyer or firm landscape.

Next, we tried to locate prominent plaintiff law firms and search through their official websites for any relevant information they might have published on the statistics or data related to the types or number of cases they held in the past 10 years along with other information relate how the changes have taken place. This search revealed that because these were private firms they did not publish any statistics, or present any related financial information.

Finally, we searched through law school or university sources such as abaforlawstudents.com, law.fsu.edu, law.umn.edu, and hls.harvard.edu. Most of the information that this search turned up related to the changes in the plaintiff lawyers practice area, the changing landscape of laws and reforms by change in the government structure in the United States. However, after an extensive search, we were still unable to find information related to the evolution of the plaintiff lawyers or firms.
Sources
Sources

From Part 01
Quotes
  • "The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System has landed in a legal dispute over attorney fees in a class action lawsuit in which it was a lead plaintiff and won a $300 million verdict."
  • "Judge Rosen’s report was filed under seal, but the first details of his findings after the 15-month probe trickled out as Judge Wolf grilled the lead plaintiff in the suit, George Hopkins, executive director of the Arkansas Teachers’ Retirement System."
  • "Some of the dispute apparently relates to a referral fee paid by Labaton but not disclosed to the court, which their lawyer said was legal under Massachusetts law."
Quotes
  • "A final approval hearing was held on November 2, 2016 at 2:00 p.m., at which the court approved the settlement and related relief. "
  • "After the final approval hearing was held, and the settlement and request for attorneys’ fees and expenses were approved, Lead Counsel notified the court of certain inadvertent errors in the motion for fees and expenses previously submitted to the court. "
  • "On March 8, 2017, the court appointed a special master to review the fee and expense application and to issue a report and recommendation."
Quotes
  • "A federal judge unsealed a lengthy report accusing Labaton Sucharow and a Massachusetts law firm of deliberately misleading the court about how it distributed the fees in a $300 million settlement with State Street Bank and Trust Co., including $4.1 million paid to a Houston lawyer who did no work on the case."
  • "Judge Wolf became interested in tracing where every dollar of the $75 million in fees he awarded in the State Street case went after a series of articles in the Boston Globe raising questions about the accuracy of the law firms’ billing records and suspicious payments including $400,000 at $500 an hour that flowed to Michael Bradley, Garrett’s brother, who normally works as a $53-an-hour public defender."
  • "The Boston Globe uncovered evidence of double-billing by the Thornton Law Firm, which submitted hours for attorneys who were actually employed by Labaton and Lieff Cabraser and also appeared in their lodestar reports."
  • "The judge also expressed frustration more generally with how Labaton tried to keep information from the court and the public. “Only the most compelling reasons can justify non-disclosure of judicial records,” he wrote."
Quotes
  • "Arkansas lawmakers on Tuesday grilled the head of the state’s teacher retirement fund, an entity that teams with class action lawyers whose billing practices have come into question."
  • "A focus on attorneys fees in a $300 million settlement caused a hearing of members of both houses of the Arkansas legislature who sought to figure out how it came to be that Houston attorney Damon Chargois received $4.1 million of the $75 million in attorneys fees despite not doing any work on the case."
  • "The hearing came two weeks after a special master accused the law firm Labaton Sucharow and its co-counsel in a class action against State Street Bank and Trust of deliberately misleading the court about how it distributed the attorneys fees obtained in the settlement."
  • "But it was the payment to Chargois that has drawn attention in Arkansas. In a heated May 30 sidebar conference that recently became public, Judge Wolf asked Labaton’s lawyer Joan Lukey directly “whether all those millions of dollars stopped with Mr. Chargois.”"
Quotes
  • "Labaton Sucharow has agreed to return $4.8 million in attorney fees to plaintiffs and other law firms in a securities class action against State Street Corp."
  • "The payment resolves allegations of double billing and a failure to disclose a $4.1 million finder fee to a lawyer who helped introduce Labaton to the lead plaintiff, the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, report Law.com and the New York Times. The lawyer who received the fee is Damon Chargois of Texas."
From Part 02
Quotes
  • "Three billion Yahoo accounts were compromised in August 2013, with data stolen including names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords and, in some cases, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers. In a separate hack in 2014, 500 million accounts were compromised."
Quotes
  • "Target Stores , Sony's PlayStation Network and Home Depot are the top three data breaches of the 21st century in settlement services"
Quotes
  • "After the retailer filed a motion to dismiss, parties entered mediation and negotiated a settlement. Pursuant to the agreement, the retailer will establish a $5.2 million settlement fund to be distributed to class members as well as pay attorneys’ fees and expenses. The company also agreed to change several practices related to data security."
Quotes
  • "TD Bank has agreed to a multi-state settlement in the wake of a 2012 data breach involving the loss of two backup tapes that may have exposed personally identifiable information about 260,000 of the bank's 8 million U.S. customers."
Quotes
  • "The multistate settlement over the 2013 Target data breach outlines the kind of security measures enterprises should have in order to not be found negligent with customer data. The problem is, the settlement doesn’t go far enough to improve organizational security. For the pro-active CSO, the settlement should indicate the bare minimum and not what they should aspire to."