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DC Team + 1 Demonstrates That a Massachusetts Court Will Recognize a Case May Not Merit the Work Spent on It

June 4, 2014

A Wilson Elser Boston-DC defense team blocked a potentially crippling class action brought in the District of Massachusetts against a law firm and two of its partners, as well as its client, a foreign film production company. The plaintiff was one of many “John Doe’s” identified by their IP addresses who received a settlement demand letter from Wilson Elser’s clients to settle copyright infringement claims in exchange for a release. In response, the plaintiff filed a putative class action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts against Wilson Elser’s clients and the copyright holder. The original 100-page complaint consisted of 24 counts, and after multiple rounds of motion practice and two amended complaints, the District Court dismissed all federal causes of action against Wilson Elser’s clients, leaving only a handful of state law claims. The plaintiff’s motion for class certification on those counts was denied, with the Court holding that the plaintiff had not demonstrated the necessary elements of commonality and typicality, and had failed to show that he would fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

With the federal causes of action dismissed and the possibility of a class action off the table, the plaintiff accepted a four-figure offer of judgment, which permitted the plaintiff to submit a fee petition to the Court. The plaintiff sought more than $360,000 in fees, while Wilson Elser advocated for an award of approximately a tenth of that amount. The District Court accepted Wilson Elser’s arguments, holding that because the remaining legal issues were “not complex” and the plaintiff’s individual stake was “low,” an award of just over $30,000 was appropriate. This case illustrates the value of narrowing the issues in a case through targeted dispositive motions and the significance of class certification motions in a putative class action. It also demonstrates that a court will apply a rule of reason in awarding attorneys' fees, recognizing that in some instances a case may not merit the work spent on it.

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