Law firms in Meta antitrust lawsuit clash over lead role

The logo of Meta Platforms' business group is seen in Brussels, Belgium December 6, 2022. REUTERS/Yves Herman

(Reuters) - Two major U.S. law firms are feuding over which one will lead a consumer antitrust class action against Meta Platforms Inc's Facebook, after a judge scrapped a prior order appointing them both as co-leaders for the plaintiffs and started from scratch.

U.S. District Judge James Donato in San Francisco said in January that he would make a new determination to select one of the firms to lead the class action amid quarreling between Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. Part of the clash included a Hagens Berman partner accusing Quinn Emanuel of discounting her views based on her gender. Quinn Emanuel denied the allegation, calling it a "mystery."

"I have significant experience-based qualms about these multi-headed plaintiff-side structures," Donato said at a recent hearing in the case, as he heard about the dispute and wiped out a 2021 order by another judge who appointed both firms. "You don't need them."

The underlying case involves class claims from consumers and advertisers that Facebook exploited user data to maintain its market power. The company has denied the allegations from both sets of class plaintiffs.

The two law firms on Friday night submitted their pitches to Donato about why he should appoint them solely rather than jointly to lead the consumer class.

In its filing, Quinn Emanuel said partner Kevin Teruya was the "architect of the consumer class's case." Hagens Berman in its submission questioned Quinn Emanuel's rates, suggesting they were too high.

Plaintiffs' firms routinely vie for court-appointed leadership roles in class actions, allowing them to steer litigation and potentially to recover bigger portions of legal fees in cases that settle or win at trial.

A representative from Hagens Berman did not immediately comment, and a Quinn Emanuel spokesperson declined to comment.

The lawyers who are seeking to lead the consumer class — Shana Scarlett of Hagens Berman and Teruya of Quinn Emanuel — did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

In court last month, Scarlett said "this case has presented a set of circumstances where I feel that my voice has not been equally heard." Teruya said at the hearing that his firm has "worked very hard to be cooperative with all counsel on the case, including female counsel."

Donato told the lawyers "it sounds like it's been more than just honest differences of opinion."

Hagens Berman is a 80-lawyer plaintiffs' firm based in Seattle, and Los Angeles-based Quinn Emanuel, with more than 900 attorneys, represents plaintiffs while also defending companies in business litigation. Hagens Berman and Quinn Emanuel have been on opposite sides in other cases.

The case is Klein v. Meta Platforms Inc, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 5:20-cv-08570.

Read more:

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In Facebook antitrust case, Quinn Emanuel feuds with rival law firm over leadership role

(Reporting by Mike Scarcella; editing by Leigh Jones)

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