Consumer & Civil Rights
Susman Godfrey prides itself on its deep bench of talent, wide range of experience, and ability to take on any case, any time. The Firm has scored multi-million dollar victories in consumer and civil rights class action cases, and has successfully represented defendants in a host of “bet the company” consumer and civil rights cases.
- ODonnell v Harris County. For decades, the Harris County Jail held tens of thousands of people who were arrested for misdemeanors but financially unable to post bail. Though arrested for the same minor offense, a person with money could avoid jail entirely while an indigent person would spend days or weeks in jail before any determination of the merits. Along with Civil Rights Corps and the Texas Fair Defense Project, Manne represents on a pro bono basis a class of indigent arrestees who challenged the constitutionality of Harris County’s money bail practices. In April 2017, after an 8 day evidentiary hearing, the U.S. District Court found Harris County’s system unconstitutional and ordered broad injunctive relief. The bail reforms went into effect in June 2017. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit affirmed the district court’s rulings that the system was unconstitutional. In the first year in which the injunctive relief was in effect, more than 12,000 people were released from jail. A final consent decree was entered in 2019.
- Jared Woodfill et al. v. City of Houston et al. In a lawsuit stemmed from the Houston City Council’s June 2014 enactment of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) which prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment (excluding religious organizations) and housing, Susman Godfrey defended pro bono the city of Houston when plaintiffs submitted a petition with ~54,000 signatures to the City attempting to repeal HERO. After a two-week jury trial, the jury resoundingly found in favor of the City in February 2015. The jury found that 64 out of 97 petition circulators failed to comply with the legal requirements in the City Charter – exactly what Susman Godfrey asked the jury to find – and also found that 12 of the 13 circulators who gathered the most signatures submitted pages with forgeries and swore oaths that were not true and correct. In April 2015, the judge entered final judgment in favor of the City, awarded costs to the City and denied all relief sought. The City later lost a related lawsuit handled by another firm and the ordinance will be on the ballot.
- Clark v. AdvanceMe, Inc. was a class action brought in Los Angeles federal court challenging financial arrangements with retail merchants under California’s laws against usury. Susman Godfrey served as lead counsel for the class. In 2011, the case was settled for approximately $23.4 million in cash and other economic consideration, approximately $19 million net to the class.
- In November 2008, the Firm won a jury trial for a class of California residential telephone customers against AT&T. The case involved a claim that AT&T overcharged customers by collecting $16.5 million more in Universal Service Fund charges than it paid into the Fund. The Tenth Circuit upheld the verdict. In re Universal Service Fund Telephone Billing Practices Litig., 619 F.3d 1188 (10th Cir. 2010). Susman Godfrey served as lead trial counsel and briefed and argued the appeal.
- In July 2008, Susman Godfrey represented the Hertz Corporation in a class action case challenging the company’s rental car fuel service charges. Susman Godfrey successfully argued and won the appeal in the case. The class consisted of tens of thousands of class members and Plaintiffs alleged millions of dollars in damages. The Court of Appeals for the Thirteenth District Court of Texas reversed the trial court’s class certification order and decertified the class on all claims. This victory will serve as persuasive authority in similar cases around the country.
- In 2005, less than a week before the start of a jury trial in Clayton, New Mexico, OXY USA, Inc. agreed to pay $12 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by Susman Godfrey and New Mexico co-counsel on behalf of a class of royalty owners who had leased mineral rights to OXY for the production of C02 at the Bravo Dome Unit in northeastern New Mexico. The $12 million settlement represented approximately 90% of the total amount of actual damages sought by the class. The settlement also required OXY to pay litigation expenses of $400,000 and settlement administration expenses of $200,000. Finally, OXY has agreed to change how it calculates plaintiffs’ royalty on a going-forward basis. This change resulted in a near doubling of the royalty amounts OXY was paying the class members before the filing of this lawsuit in 2004.
- In 2004, Susman Godfrey won a net $40 million settlement in Shockey v. Chevron U.S.A., a royalty class action, after prevailing on hotly contested issues of class certification and choice of law.
- Susman Godfrey obtained class certification from the Middle District of Florida for a class of African-American employees of Western Auto Supply Co. (now owned by Advance Stores Company, Inc.) who were suing the former auto parts retailer for racial discrimination. The defendants immediately appealed the certification decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Susman Godfrey’s briefed and argued the appeal, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the class certification decision — the first such class certification decision the Eleventh Circuit had upheld in decades. The case settled in 2003, with the defendants making a substantial payment to the class.