Trump University class-action complicated by claimant objection

Photo (c) Michael Vadon - Flickr

The action could put the settlement and all other class members at risk

No more than a day ago, we reported that former Trump University students may be seeing big payouts on their class-action suit. More than 3,700 of the 6,000 plaintiffs had filed a claim on the $25 million settlement, with each person standing to make as much 90 cents on the dollar of their original investments, according to class attorney Rachel Jensen.

However, a claim by one woman and her Florida attorney may end up throwing a wrench into things and may derail the whole settlement, according to Courthouse News.

Claimant Sherri Simpson, represented by Gary Friedman, filed an objection to the settlement on March 6 saying that she was not afforded a second opt-out opportunity after the settlement was reached, a promise that was made in the 2015 class notices mailed to each plaintiff.

Friedman said that not allowing Simpson to opt out of the settlement forfeited her right to file an objection to the settlement as a pre-condition for her to seek cash payment on any potential settlement agreement. Simpson is looking to file her own fraud lawsuit against Trump that could secure her triple damages if she wins the case.

Derailing the settlement

Class attorney Jason Forge has called Simpson’s and Friedman’s actions “outrageous,” and said that the move jeopardizes the case for all other claimants simply because Simpson wants an apology from Trump.

“You can’t do better than getting money back,” he said. “If you get back 90 cents on the dollar, isn’t that better than someone saying, ‘Hey I’m sorry?’”

Others have called the ethical implications of the action into question. Simpson apparently did not know about the exact clause in the class notice that guaranteed a second opt-out opportunity, but Friedman allegedly contacted her to offer his legal services after learning of the matter.

Class attorney Patrick Coughlin points to an “admission” by Friedman in court stating that fact, saying that “we just had an admission she didn’t have this parenthetical but had a vague understanding she would be able to opt out.”

Friedman said that contacting Simpson and essentially soliciting her as a client was “not relevant,” stating that “[Simpson] was unhappy with the settlement and had expected she would be able to opt out. In terms of me calling her representing an ethical breach – I believe that’s false.”

Elderly class members at risk

So, what does all of this mean for the other members of the class? For right now, nothing. U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel still needs to issue a written ruling and approve the settlement before it goes forward. However, if he doesn’t give approval based on Simpson’s objection, attorneys say that many older members of the class may suffer.

Jensen points out that lead plaintiff John Brown is turning 66 and that he planned to use the settlement money to pay off credit card debt and retire debt-free. Other members undoubtedly would use the money to “replenish retirement funds, send kids to college and put a down payment on a house,” she said.

Unfortunately, derailing the settlement could mean that many elderly members never see the money they’re allegedly owed. “If this selfishness persists there is no question some people would die before getting their money back,” said Forge. 

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