Hernandez v. Vitamin Shoppe (Spencer, Appellant) examines limits on advocacy by class action settlement objector

Unlike single party cases, class actions routinely have more than one plaintiff that purports to represent the same (or similar) class. In Hernandez v. Vitamin Shoppe (Spencer, Appellant) (June 17, 2009), the Court of Appeal (First Appellate District, Division Two) examined the ability of trial courts to set limits on the methods and extent of that advocacy:

After the trial court conditionally certified the class for settlement purposes, appellant Jeffrey Spencer, attorney for appellant Lisa Hernandez, a plaintiff in Perry, sent a letter to various class members urging them to opt out of the settlement, and to retain him as counsel against Vitamin Shoppe in another class action involving the same matters. The court subsequently issued orders and rulings regarding these communications, barring Spencer from certain future communications, and granting monetary sanctions against him, which appellants Hernandez and Spencer challenge on appeal. In the published portion of this opinion, we affirm these rulings and orders, except that we reverse the trial court‘s imposition of monetary sanctions against Spencer.

Slip op., at 1-2. Later, the Court described aspects of the letter to class members:

Spencer, identifying himself as counsel in Thompson, represented in his letters to various members of the conditionally certified class that if the Perry settlement were approved, "substantial compensation will be forfeited," that "you will not be able to recover compensation for all the rest and meal periods you were denied or for all of the overtime compensation or penalties you are owed," and that "[u]nder California law you are entitled to an extra hour of pay for each rest and meal period that you missed during your employment." He advised them to "protect" themselves from the Perry settlement by opting out of the class and joining the Thompson action, which he stated was "in progress," encouraged them to request exclusion from the settlement, and warned that those who did not exclude themselves would be "stuck" with the settlement‘s terms. He solicited them to retain him as counsel, or to contact him for advice or assistance with respect to excluding themselves from the class, and enclosed his retainer agreement.

Slip op., at 4-5. So, to recap, there are acceptable means of objecting to a proposed class action settlement, and there are unacceptable means. This opinion concerns one of those unacceptable means. But I will note that it is a tough position to be in as an attorney for the same putative class if you believe that you can obtain a better result for that class. In the end, class action settlements are approved not on the basis of whether they are the best possible settlement; instead, the proposed settlement need only be good enough.