Markow v. Southwest Airlines Co., No. 13-3264 (7th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
In 2010, Southwest Airlines stopped honoring certain in-flight drink vouchers issued to customers who had bought “Business Select” fares. Customers filed suit, seeking to represent a class of similarly situated plaintiffs. The parties reached a settlement to provide replacement drink vouchers to all class members, and injunctive relief constraining how Southwest could issue future vouchers. The parties negotiated an agreement on fees for class counsel. The court certified the class and approved the settlement’s class relief components, but awarded counsel a smaller fee than requested. Two class members objected, arguing that the settlement was unfair to the class because it was too generous to class counsel. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The “coupon settlement” provisions of the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1712, allowed the court to award attorney fees based on the lodestar method rather than the value of the redeemed coupons. While the fee aspects of the settlement include troublesome features, the settlement provides class members essentially complete relief. The financial and professional relationship between lead class counsel and one lead plaintiff created a potential conflict of interest that should have been disclosed, but another lead plaintiff had no conflict and the class received essentially complete relief, so there was no basis for decertification or rejecting the settlement. The court instead removed that plaintiff’s $15,000 incentive award and reduced the lawyer’s fee.