Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Sylvia Bacon, Motions Judge
Ferren, Belson, and Farrell, Associate Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Farrell
In this appeal we reject challenges to an order of the trial court approving a settlement of antitrust litigation between the District of Columbia as parens patriae and two soft drink bottling companies.
On September 9, 1988, the District of Columbia (the District) as parens patriae filed a complaint alleging that General Cinema Beverages of Washington, D.C., Inc. (GC-Washington) and the Mid-Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Inc. (Mid-Atlantic) had agreed to fix the prices of soft drinks in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area in violation of the District of Columbia antitrust act, D.C. Code §§ 28-4501 to -4518 (1981). The District brought suit on behalf of natural persons who, while residing in the District of Columbia, had purchased soft drinks indirectly from defendants through retailers and other intermediaries between September 30, 1984 and September 30, 1986. *fn1
The District filed the complaint after conducting what the trial court found to be a "thorough investigation" of the case using in part the civil investigative demand procedures of D.C. Code § 28-4505 (1981). Also, the District's investigation supplemented a grand jury investigation previously instituted by the United States Department of Justice which had resulted in a plea of guilty by GC-Washington on October 15, 1986, to conspiracy to fix the price of certain soft drinks between October 1984 and August 31, 1985; and a plea of guilty more limited in scope by Mid-Atlantic on October 14, 1987.
Following the filing of the complaint by the District, the parties entered into settlement negotiations which resulted in an agreement in principle on October 14, 1988, under which the defendants would pay $180,000 immediately to settle the parens patriae claims. A final settlement was filed with the Superior Court on December 2, 1988, after which the District moved the court for preliminary approval of the agreement. *fn2 On December 21 the trial court granted the motion for preliminary approval and directed that notices regarding the settlement be published in The Washington Post.
Only a few responses were received, chief of which was an objection by appellant Leonard Goodman on behalf of himself, the Shepherd Park Citizens Association, and certain other District of Columbia citizens (hereafter appellants). After full briefing on the reasonableness of the settlement, the trial court held a hearing on March 24, 1989, following which it granted final approval of the settlement. Appellants moved for reconsideration on April 3 and on February 6, 1990, the court denied the motion in a Memorandum of Decision and Order.
This court has not addressed the standard of review of a trial court's approval of a settlement agreement under the local parens patriae statute or in the analogous context of class actions. We ally ourselves with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, however, in "stressing the limited scope of our review of such orders."
Appellants must show that the court abused its discretion: this generally requires a showing either that the agreement in question was so manifestly unfair as to preclude judicial approval, or that the court did not have sufficient facts before it to make an informed judgment.
Weil v. Markowitz, 264 U.S. App. D.C. 381, 386-87, 829 F.2d 166, 171-72 (1987) (footnote omitted). Moreover,
great weight is accorded his [the trial Judge's] views because he is exposed to the litigants, and their strategies, positions and proofs. He is aware of the expense and possible legal bars to success. Simply stated, he is on the firing line and can evaluate the action accordingly.
Ace Heating & Plumbing Co. v. Crane Co., 453 F.2d 30, 34 (3d Cir. 1971); see also City of Detroit v. Grinnell Corp., 495 ...