Ninth Circuit Affirms $42 Million Fee Award in NCAA in Antitrust Suit

On April 17, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a $42 million attorney fee award despite objections from former NCAA athletes. As we have previously covered, in November 2017, former Division I NCAA athletes won a settlement of $208.7 million against the NCAA. In their suit, former NCAA athletes challenged the NCAA’s practice of capping student scholarships at values less than the actual cost of attendance. Previously, class member Darrin Duncan articulated that the “central issue in the case is that [the NCAA] violated the antitrust laws by agreeing to and enforcing restrictive NCAA bylaws that cap the amount of athletically related financial aid and other benefits.”

Following the November 2017 ruling, the NCAA was awarded $41.7 million, or about 20 percent of the overall settlement value, in legal fees and costs. In response, Duncan filed a brief arguing that the fee is “exorbitant” and should not stand, particularly because the settlement is considered to be a “mega-fund” exceeding a $100 million class payout. However, the Ninth Circuit rejected Duncan’s argument, saying, district courts are allowed to “calculate the percentage of attorney fees based on either the gross or net fund.”

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