Counsel taking a pre-certification dismissal of a class action must file a statement which includes:
(1) the reason for dismissal, (2) the personal gain received by the plaintiffs in any settlement, (3) a statement of any other material terms of the settlement, specifically including any terms which have the potential to impact class members, (4) a statement of any counsel fees paid to plaintiff’s counsel by defendants, and (5) a statement of any agreement by plaintiff(s) restricting their ability to file other litigation against any defendant.
Op. at ¶2. In addition, counsel for the Plaintiff is required to "file a statement either detailing any potential prejudice to putative class members or representing to the Court that no prejudice exists." Judge Tennille indicated that the Court would "be particularly concerned about issues related to tolling of the statute of limitations."
In a case involving the dismissal of a North Carolina class action resulting from the approval of a nationwide class action settlement in another state, there is a different requirement. Then:
counsel shall file with the Court a copy of the order approving settlement and sufficient information concerning the notice provisions so that the Court can ascertain if jurisdictional and due process issues have been addressed by the foreign court and whether North Carolina citizens have been represented in the proceeding.
Op. at ¶4. This filing will permit the court to "raise any concerns with the foreign court," and that "once those concerns have been addressed, the foreign court’s order will be entitled to full faith and credit whether or not this Court would have granted approval of the settlement." Op. at ¶4. (In a case involving an out-of-North Carolina settlement, the statement regarding the reasons for the dismissal is not necessary.)
In all cases, the Business Court will require a final accounting of the distribution of any settlement proceeds and attorneys fees. This needs to include "the amount of money (or coupons) actually received by the class, the amount of administrative fees, and the amount of attorney fees received." Op. at ¶6.
The Court noted two reasons for the requirement of an accounting. First, the Court said that this would "promote greater transparency that will fill the ‘informational black hole’ concerning final distributions and make administration of class actions more efficient and effective and thus more beneficial to class members." Op. at ¶8.
Second, the Court said it would use this information for other purposes, including an assessment of the qualifications of class counsel:
This Court would add to that list of benefits from transparency, the benefit of judges being able to assess the past performance, abilities and commitment of those lawyers who seek to be class counsel in other cases. A history of final results in other cases would also alert judges to scrutinize settlements proposed by defendants who have settled their class action in ways that resulted in no benefits to class members. This Court can think of no reason why the final results should not be made known to the Court and the citizens affected.
Op. at ¶9. The accounting information will be available on the Business Court’s website.