Joffe v. Google, Inc., No. 20-15616 (9th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs alleged, in this consolidated class action, that Google illegally collected their Wi-Fi data through its Street View program. After the parties reached a settlement agreement that provided for injunctive relief, cy pres payments to nine Internet privacy advocacy groups, fees for the attorneys, and service awards to class representatives—but no payments to absent class members, David Lowery, one of two objectors to the settlement proposal, appealed the district court's approval of the settlement and grant of attorneys' fees.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in approving the settlement, certifying the class, or in its award of attorneys' fees, and it did not commit legal error by rejecting Lowery's First Amendment argument. The panel rejected the suggestion that a district court may not approve a class-action settlement that provides monetary relief only in the form of cy pres payments to third parties; Lowery has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in approving the use of cy pres payments in the settlement; the infeasibility of distributing settlement funds directly to class members does not preclude class certification; and viewing the modest injunctive relief together with the indirect benefits the class members enjoy through the cy pres provision, the panel affirmed the district court’s finding that the settlement was fair, reasonable, and adequate.
The panel also concluded that the settlement agreement does not compel class members to subsidize third-party speech because any class member who does not wish to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support, can simply opt out of the class. The panel has never held that merely having previously received cy pres funds from a defendant, let alone other defendants in unrelated cases, disqualifies a proposed recipient for all future cases. Furthermore, the panel affirmed cy pres provisions involving much closer relationships between recipients and parties than anything Lowery alleges here. The court further concluded that the district court properly considered all relevant circumstances, including the value to the class members, and concluded that a 25% benchmark was appropriate. Finally, the panel concluded that class counsel and class representatives did not breach their fiduciary duties by entering the settlement.