Stearns secures record fees on ExxonMobil case

Miami-based law firm Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson’s dreams came true earlier this month when a Miami federal judge awarded it $249m (£135.21m) in fees.

The ruling, one of the largest fee awards on record in the US, follows Stearns’ successful representation of 11,000 petrol station owners in a $1.1bn (£597.32m) class action case against ExxonMobil over claims that ExxonMobil failed to pay discounts on petrol to offset increased credit card costs.

It also ends a heated fee battle between the several law firms representing the petrol station owners, including Pertnoy Solowsky & Allen, which ended up pocketing a none-too-shabby $53m (£28.78m).

However, Pertnoy must be a little miffed with that sum, given that the firm had been pushing for the enforcement of a 1996 split-fee agreement, which would have entitled it to 47 per cent of total fees. Instead, US District Judge Alan Gold awarded the firm 16.3 per cent.

Stearns had, meanwhile, sought 82 per cent of the total fees, claiming that ExxonMobil would have won had the firm not entered the case.

“In the trenches of this case, we were alone,” Stearns chairman Eugene Stearns wrote in his fee application to the court. He continued that the dispute “pits the lawyers who worked to achieve the recovery for the class… against lawyers who mostly sat by and watched”.

Pertnoy slammed the allegations as “blatant untruths”.

Judge Gold was not swayed by either camp’s colourful language, awarding 75 per cent to Stearns and stating that to enforce the fee agreement would “result in a grossly disproportionate award among the five law firms in relation to services actually rendered”.

The three other law firms will split the remaining 8.7 per cent.