Big name plaintiffs like Proctor & Gamble, Kellogg Co and Coca Cola opted out of a class action antitrust case to pursue their own claims. Now a federal judge has ruled that the opt-out class must pay a percentage of any settlement to the lawyers who did the grunt work ahead of them.

The team of plaintiffs’ lawyers who worked on the case for more than five years are entitled to a share on the proceeds received by the ‘opt-out’ class, the judge ruled.

“This case warrants the establishment of a system to ensure that designated counsel are compensated for their efforts in managing the litigation,” Senior U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois wrote in Re: Linerboard Antitrust Litigation.

The ruling is a huge victory for plaintiffs’ attorneys Howard I. Langer of Golomb Honik & Langer and Eugene A. Spector of Spector Roseman & Kodroff who were appointed lead counsel in a class action brought by purchasers of corrugated paper products that accused paper manufacturers of conspiring to decrease their production so that supply would plummet and prices would rise.

In recent months such corporates as Proctor & Gamble Co., Kellogg Co., Sara Lee Corp., Coca-Cola Co., Colgate-Palmolive Co., General Mills Corp. and Hallmark Cards Inc. opted out to pursue their own action.

DuBois found that the opt-out plaintiffs have benefited from the years of work already done by the lead lawyers on the case and therefore must pay for that benefit.

“This is the rare antitrust case in which major entities and their counsel awaited the development of the case by designated counsel and only filed suit on the eve of the conclusion of discovery,” DuBois wrote.

DuBois ordered the lead lawyers and opt-out lawyers to meet and attempt to reach an agreement on the percentage of funds that should be sequestered from the opt-out plaintiffs’ recoveries.

In a separate opinion handed down Aug. 26, DuBois approved an $8 million settlement by two of the 12 defendants in the class-action after finding that it could motivate the other defendants to settle.

“This settlement has significant value as an ‘ice-breaker’ settlement — it is the first settlement in the litigation — and should increase the likelihood of future settlements,” DuBois wrote.

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