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Sears Settlement Upheld in North Carolina

Raleigh, N.C. A North Carolina appeals court said in an opinion on Wednesday that, despite concerns, a class-action settlement that allowed attorneys who sued Sears to collect $1 million in fees while consumers got $2,402 will be upheld.

The state Court of Appeals said that it has "serious concerns" about the final accounting of the settlement but that the issues surrounding the case had already been considered by an Illinois circuit court in 2004.

Terms of the deal approved in Illinois, where the now-Sears Holdings Corp. has its headquarters, set aside $10 checks or $4 coupons to motorists who were charged for a four-wheel alignment when they only needed two done. Sears Roebuck and Co. agreed to pay about $1 million in fees and costs to the various lawyers involved.

An outraged business judge in North Carolina resurrected the settlement issue last year, criticizing the efforts of attorneys to locate as many as 1.5 million customers affected. Both sides had agreed to publish details of the settlement in a magazine, a national newspaper and papers in Sears' top 25 markets. Sears also maintained a Web site and phone line to give information about the case.

Attorneys estimated that 30% of consumers would file claims, and they argued before the settlement's final approval that about 1,900 people had already submitted a claim while thousands of others had inquired about it. But the lawyers later told North Carolina Special Superior Court Judge Ben F. Tennille that the entire claims period only brought in 1,015 filings, of which only 317 were valid.

That left consumers with only $2,402 of the seven-digit settlement.

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