08:05, May 23 217 0 abajournal.com

2018-05-23 08:05:05
Federal judge scolds slow-moving BigLaw lawyers, enforces oral agreement to settle class action

A federal judge in New Jersey is requiring Samsung Electronics America to abide by an oral agreement to settle two would-be class actions involving drain pumps in washing machines.

U.S. District Judge William Martini of Newark ruled Monday that the oral agreement contained the essential terms and was enforceable. At the same time, Martini criticized Samsung for foot-dragging and its lawyers at Squire Patton Boggs for alleged “poor judgment and a misunderstanding” of their obligations in litigation involving the washers. Law360 covered Martini’s decision.

The New Jersey cases had alleged that some top-load Samsung washers had a flimsy plastic housing covering the drain pump that would break and cause flooding in homes.

A mediator had informed the court of the settlement last June, and counsel for Samsung and the plaintiffs agreed that the case had settled, according to Martini. The essential terms were included in written draft agreements, Martini said.

Yet Samsung “dragged its feet” and no written agreement materialized, according to Martini.

At a status conference in November, Squire Patton Boggs partner Philip Oliss explained the slow pace. Oliss said his firm was having “an incredibly difficult time in terms of the turn-around between here and Seoul, Korea.”

Martini didn’t buy the “strange explanations” by Oliss. His representation is “as if his firm of over 1,500 lawyers (including several located in Seoul) and its client, a giant multinational conglomerate, were restricted to Eighteenth-century lines of communication,” Martini said.

Two months later, “activity on this docket ceased without explanation,” Martini said. Then in April, Oliss informed Martini that Samsung had entered into an agreement to settle separate multidistrict litigation involving the washers in Oklahoma, and the deal would provide relief to the New Jersey customers.

Martini pointed to rules for multidistrict litigation that require counsel to notify MDL courts of “potential tag-along actions.” Yet that notice wasn’t given, and Oliss didn’t try to transfer to the New Jersey cases to the mutlidistrict litigation “for reasons unknown, and to this court’s bewilderment,” Martini said.

The New Jersey cases involve the same washing machine models that were part of the multidistrict litigation in an Oklahoma federal court, including a case involving the drain pump housing, Martini said.

Oliss had claimed he had no obligation to inform the MDL court about that the New Jersey cases because they were different, even as he claimed the New Jersey class members were covered by the MDL settlement, Martini said.

“At the very least,” Martini said, Samsung’s counsel “exhibited poor judgment and a misunderstanding of its obligations under MDL.”

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Bruce Nagel, told Law360 he was pleased the judge enforced the settlement. “Samsung tried to play fast and loose by attempting to nullify this settlement with the MDL settlement in Oklahoma, which they claim is still confidential, and Judge Martini would have no part of this strategy,” Nagel said.

Squire Patton Boggs declined to comment due to the ongoing litigation.