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Marriott Data Breach Leadership: Mix of Best Talent (Corrected)

April 29, 2019, 5:41 PMUpdated: April 30, 2019, 5:17 PM

Consumers suing Marriott International Inc. over a data breach that compromised the personal information of 500 million guests will be represented by Andrew N. Friedman of Cohen Milstein, Amy E. Keller of DiCello Levitt, and James J. Pizzirusso of Hausfeld, a federal court announced April 29.

Judge Paul W. Grimm of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, who is overseeing the consolidated cases, took the unusual step of announcing the leadership team at the hearing where applicants came to make their case for appointments.

Judges typically announce the team by order days or weeks after the hearing.

Grimm asked attorneys from four proposed slates of candidates practical questions about how they would manage the litigation and broke for recess after just an hour and a half.

When he came back, he announced the three co-lead counsel appointments, as well as two attorneys for liaison counsel and nine others for the plaintiffs’ steering committee.

None of the attorneys got to boast about their resumes and MDL experience, like at most leadership hearings. The 20 attorneys who applied as individuals didn’t get to speak at all.

More than 80 consumer class actions were filed by some 300 attorneys across the country alleging Marriott failed to protect customers’ data and waited too long to inform them of the breach.

First-Timer

This is Grimm’s first time managing multidistrict litigation, but he had clearly done his homework, and he clearly had a idea of who he planned to pick for leadership before the hearing.

Grimm repeatedly mentioned what a talented group of attorneys had applied. “I’ve never seen so many people who interned at the United Nations when they were four years old,” he joked.

He insisted from the start that he wouldn’t accept any of the slates on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Instead, he said he would mix and match from all the applications.

The three co-lead attorneys were from the same slate. The others were picked from the other three slates and two from individual applications.

Grimm also gave many indications of how he plans to handle the litigation.

He acknowledged counsel for Marriott from Baker and Hostetler LLP and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in the courtroom. “They, at least, are secure in what their role is in this litigation,” Grimm joked.

Grimm said he plans to be very hands-on with discovery disputes. He’s written several law review articles on the subject that “people only read when they need help falling asleep,” he said.

Lead counsel will be required to submit a report of everyone’s billing in quarterly statements during the litigation. But Grimm said he doesn’t want raw spreadsheets—instead he wants analysis of how attorneys’ hours were spent and if the work was worthwhile.

“I need to understand where we’re spending our money: more of a forest view than leaves on branches on trees,” he said.

Grimm also sought assurances from the attorneys that their expenses would be reasonable: no billing alcohol to the class, no staying at the Ritz, no first class flights.

One attorney assured him, “We’re all Best Western and Red Lobster people here.” Grimm responded, “I didn’t realize you had sponsors!”

The first task of the new leadership team will be working with defense counsel to submit the five best claims and five best defenses to see where the litigation stands, Grimm said.

He set the next case management conference for May 30.

Plaintiffs in the banking and securities cases stemming from the data breach will have separate leadership.

The case is In re Marriott Int’l, Inc., Customer Data Sec. Breach Litig., D. Md., No. 19-md-2879, leadership hearing 4/29/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Perry Cooper in Washington at pcooper@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Molly Ward at mward@bloomberglaw.com