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Small law firm sees faith in class-action suit pay off

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A federal judge appears likely to approve the largest class-action settlement ever to come out of a local court, and DeLaney & DeLaney, a small Indianapolis law firm that helped press the case, is poised to profit handsomely.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in June granted preliminary approval to a deal under which WellPoint Inc. would pay $90 million to settle a lawsuit charging it undercompensated policyholders when it converted into a public company in 2001. The deal — submitted three days before a trial was set to begin — is up for final approval at an Oct. 25 hearing.

The plaintiffs have asked the judge to earmark one-third of the settlement, or $30 million, for attorney’s fees, though it isn’t clear how that would be divvied up among the six law firms representing plaintiffs.

It’s been quite an odyssey for all the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The case began seven years ago, and DeLaney & DeLaney jumped on board in 2008, when the case was transferred from Ohio.

The firm, which has just five attorneys, poured more than 2,400 hours into the case, working alongside some national heavyweights in class-action litigation.

“Every person who has worked here during the life of this case has worked on this case,” said Kathleen DeLaney, DeLaney & DeLaney’s managing partner. “It is that big a case. At certain times, we added personnel to work on this case. We had lots of weekends and late nights working on this case.”

Because it was a contingency-fee case, all that work would have been for naught had Indianapolis-based WellPoint prevailed at trial. But DeLaney said her firm thoroughly analyzed the risks and opportunities before jumping aboard.

At issue in the lawsuit were the terms of the 2001 conversion of WellPoint — then known as Anthem Inc. — from a policyholder-owned company to a publicly traded one. Plaintiffs had been planning to argue at trial that the insurer paid 700,000 policyholders in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Connecticut $227 million to $448 million less than it should have.

While the $90 million settlement is just 40 percent of the low end of that range, WellPoint had contended it owed nothing. And even if plaintiffs had prevailed at trial, they faced the risk of having that verdict overturned on appeal after years of additional legal squabbling.

“These large risks strongly motivated class counsel to perform work of the highest quality and in appropriate quantity, in order to fulfill our fiduciary commitment to our clients and to lessen the chances of a disastrous loss,” plaintiffs’ attorneys said in their motion asking Pratt to approve the one-third contingency fee.

DeLaney believes the deal has strong support from class members. She noted that there were just three objections filed to the fee request, despite the hundreds of thousands of class members who could have done so.

“The bottom line is, this was the biggest case of my career so far,” said DeLaney, who graduated from law school in 1995 and entered private practice in 1997, after clerking two years for then-U.S. District Court Judge David Hamilton. “It was a very exciting case to be involved with. I am proud of the results we got for our class members.”

DeLaney started DeLaney & DeLaney in 2001 with her mother, Ann DeLaney, a former chairwoman of the Indiana Democratic Party. Her father, state Rep. Ed DeLaney, joined them after retiring as a partner at Barnes & Thornburg in 2003.

DeLaney & DeLaney, the only Indiana law firm representing the plaintiffs, was the primary point of contact for class members, “and, as the case progressed, had key roles in case strategy decisions,” according to a filing by attorneys for other firms representing plaintiffs. The filing noted that both Kathleen and Ed DeLaney were named to the team that was going to try the case before a jury.

Kathleen DeLaney isn’t saying what percentage of the spoils will go to her firm. The firm put in 6 percent of the nearly 41,000 hours that plaintiffs’ attorneys devoted to the case.

Had all the firms billed at their attorneys’ regular hourly rates, fees would have totaled $20 million, with more than $840,000 going to DeLaney & DeLaney. The Indianapolis firm bills at up to $450 an hour, a pittance compared with the more than $700 an hour billed by some out-of-state attorneys who represented plaintiffs.•

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  1. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  2. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  3. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  4. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  5. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

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