Settlements Face 11th Hour Delay in Dispute Over Buyer Immunity

Plaintiffs in Batton, the largest commission-focused case filed by homebuyers, are seeking to delay approval of settlements that brokerages agreed to in cases filed by homesellers, according to a court filing today, claiming at least two companies are attempting to squeeze in immunity from buyer claims at the last minute.

With the final approval hearing scheduled for tomorrow, May 9, plaintiffs are asserting that RE/MAX and Keller Williams kept “clandestine” their intent to seek legal protection in cases that include people who both bought and sold at the same time—essentially excluding a huge swath of the potential buyer class.

“Only yesterday, Defendants revealed that they are actively seeking to enjoin Plaintiffs and the putative classes from pursuing their claims in this Court,” wrote the plaintiffs. “The fairness hearing for the Settlements at issue is in one day. Accordingly, an immediate injunction is necessary.”

The last-minute drama comes as brokerages hope to put at least one major chapter of the commission lawsuits behind them. Final approval of the settlements would ostensibly provide assurance against any other major financial blows or court-ordered practice changes—though the Department of Justice (DOJ) could also still intervene, and has the power to push for more regulation of real estate outside the bounds of the commission lawsuits.

Sources familiar with negotiations of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) settlement previously told RISMedia that the organization’s settlement did not cover buyer claims, though NAR’s settlement is very different in many ways from agreements struck by brokerages in these same lawsuits.

Representatives of RE/MAXand Keller Williams did not immediately respond to a request for comment or more information about the proposed settlement, and inclusion of buyer class members.

According to the Batton plaintiffs, the attempt to exclude members of the potential buyer class constitutes a circumvention of normal court procedure. They also claim that RE/MAX and Keller Williams had plenty of opportunities to make it clear that they would be seeking this broader immunity in the seller cases, but failed to disclose it—even when asked directly by plaintiffs in Batton.

Additionally, the settlement agreements themselves do not indicate that they offer immunity from buyer claims, according to the Batton plaintiffs, and lawyers representing this potential class had no input in the seller agreements.

“Homebuyers’ claims are live claims being actively litigated before this Court. The Proposed Order’s injunction and release of these meritorious claims without regard…to procedural safeguards clearly constitute irreparable harm,” they wrote.

The Batton plaintiffs are seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on the proposed settlement approval. The hearing for the final settlement approval, which is also expected to include other companies who have agreed to settlements in the seller suits, is currently scheduled to take place in-person tomorrow in Kansas City.

The judge had not ruled on the plaintiffs’ motion at press time.

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