Haggart v. United States, No. 14-5106 (Fed. Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Landowners filed a class action suit challenging the federal Surface Transportation Board’s approval of King County using a Burlington Northern Railroad corridor as a public trail, pursuant the National Trails Systems Act Amendments of 1983, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The Claims Court approved a $110 million settlement agreement and an award to class counsel of approximately $35 million in attorney fees under the common fund doctrine. Two class members challenged the approval and award. The Federal Circuit vacated, noting that the government also challenged the approval, claiming that class counsel failed to disclose information necessary to allow class members to assess the fairness and reasonableness of the proposed settlement. The government had standing to raise its challenge under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act (URA), 42 U.S.C. 4654(c) and its arguments were not barred by waiver or estoppel.The Claims Court erred in approving a settlement agreement where class counsel withheld critical information not provided in the mailed notice to class members, but which had been produced and was readily available. Although a “common fund” exists in this case, the URA attorney fee provision provides for reasonable fees and preempts application of the common fund doctrine.
This opinion or order relates to an opinion or order originally issued on September 25, 2014.