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American Airlines lawyers, after $1 antitrust win, seek 'very substantial' fees

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Airline entitled to fees after years of litigation - lawyers Skadden team for Sabre opposes any fee award

By Mike Scarcella

(Reuters) - American Airlines Group Inc is vying to recoup more than a decade of "substantial" legal fees from Sabre Corp after winning a $1 antitrust verdict at trial in May against the flight booking service.

Lawyers for American at the U.S. law firm O'Melveny & Myers on Friday argued in a filing in Manhattan federal court that the Fort Worth, Texas-based air carrier should be awarded fees after 11 years of litigation.

Neither side appealed the jury trial verdict.

U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield must first decide whether American is entitled to fees at all. American's filing did not identify an amount, but O'Melveny partner Andrew Frackman previously in court described it as "very, very substantial."

American's fees could be expected to be at least tens of millions of dollars, given the length of the litigation, which included two trials and an appeal.

An experienced partner at O'Melveny can bill at $1,200 or more hourly, U.S. court records in other cases show. Average partner compensation at 700-lawyer O'Melveny in 2021 was about $2.6 million, according to an American Lawyer report.

A representative from American did not immediately comment on Monday, and a Sabre spokesperson did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Southlake, Texas-based Sabre is the country's largest owner and operator of a network that travel agents use to search and book flights listed by the airlines.

Sabre will oppose the airline's demand for fees. It has said American's attorneys should not get anything, since the company won a $1 nominal verdict.

The lawsuit against Sabre was filed in 2011 by US Airways, which later merged with American. The complaint accused Sabre of charging excessive fees and curbing competition in the flight-booking market.

American alleged $300 million in damages at trial, where a team from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom defended Sabre and disputed the claims.

The trial was the second in the case, after a 2016 jury verdict was wiped out by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Few cases involve such effort over such a long period of time," Frackman wrote in the fee filing.

In July, Skadden partner Patrick Fitzgerald, representing Sabre, said in court that "given the amount of fees we expect US Airways to seek, we think it makes sense to pursue settlement discussions."

Sabre and American tried for weeks to resolve the fee dispute out of court, filings show, but did not reach resolution.

The case is US Airways Inc, for American Airlines Inc v Sabre Holdings Corp, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. No. 1:11-cv-02725-LGS-JLC.

For US Airways: Andrew Frackman of O’Melveny & Myers; R. Paul Yetter of Yetter Coleman

For Sabre: Patrick Fitzgerald and Boris Bershteyn of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

Read more:

American Airlines gets favorable antitrust verdict, and $1 in damages

Partner pay watch: O'Melveny's Leviss, now SEC associate general counsel

American Airlines wins key ruling in antitrust case against Sabre