Judges make the call in class certifications

Steve Korris Jan. 20, 2005, 3:32pm

Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron

(Editor's note: Calling a lawsuit a class action does not make it one--only a judge can certify that a plaintiff represents a class. For the next five weeks the Record will examine class action certifications pending before each Madison County Circuit Court judge).

In a dispute over a $50 credit report fee, Paul and Ladonna Wratchford of Wood River sued a lender who refinanced their home. The very same day, they filed suit against the original lender over a $20.90 courier fee. Now Madison County Circuit Court Judge Nicholas Byron must decide if the Wratchfords represent two classes of individuals who deserve the same justice.

Byron held two hearings in December on Wratchfords' motions for class action certifications in their suits against Accredited Home Lenders and CBSK Financial Group. Byron took the motions under advisement.

The Wratchfords claim that Accredited Home Lenders charged a $20.90 courier fee on closing their mortgage in 2000. They allege the lender paid less than that for a courier and kept the remainder.

They claim that CBSK, doing business as American Home Lenders, charged a $50 credit report fee on closing their second mortgage in 2002. The Wratchfords claim the lender paid less than that for a credit report and kept the remainder.

The fees violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act and unjustly enriched the lenders, according to the complaint.

In response, Accredited Home Lenders argues that it incurs an average cost of more than $20.90 for courier service. CBSK argues that charging a $50 fee partially reimburses it for the cost of obtaining credit reports and resolving issues they raise.

Six other class certification motions await hearings before Byron. Plaintiffs in all six cases based their complaints on the state consumer fraud law, though none of them relied exclusively on that authority.

In all, Byron has more than 40 class action certification motions pending. He has set case management conferences for attorneys in seven cases on Feb. 2 and two cases on March 2.

Byron has set a Feb. 18 hearing for Jessica Hall of Granite City. She claims that Sprint Spectrum imposed a $150 early cancellation fee. The suit alleges breach of contract, consumer fraud, unlawful enrichment and unlawful penalties.

Kenneth Kronemeyer of New Memphis and Darryl Johnson of Collinsville claim that US Bank charged $10 to cash checks drawn by the bank's depositors and payable to them. They charge consumer fraud, wrongful dishonor and unjust enrichment. A March 1 hearing is set.

Madison County resident Kerry Hanke's case against AIG Insurance will be heard April 7. Hanke's suit claims that after an accident left the truck a total loss, the insurer evaluated his 1991 Dodge Ram 150 truck at $4,400. Based on consumer fraud and breach of contract, Hanke alleges that AIG conspired with vendors to produce a biased evaluation to reduce the payout.

Katherine Lee Henderson of Alton claims that Wells Fargo Home Mortgage fraudulently charged a $50 credit report fee and a $40 courier fee on closing her mortgage. A March 25 hearing is set.

A suit brought by Jamie Kissell of Gillespie, who alleges Wells Fargo Home Mortgage breached its contract when it charged a $10 fax fee on closing her mortgage, will be heard April 22. Byron dismissed consumer fraud and unjust enrichment counts.

After treating her for auto accident injuries, Marty Southard of Alton claims that St. Anthony's Health Systems asserted a $4,509.30 lien on proceeds of her personal injury recovery. Her class action suit claims consumer fraud and unjust enrichment because the hospital asserted the lien to avoid the reduced rate in its contract with her health plan. Byron plans a hearing after June 25.

In November, St. Anthony's offered to release all liens and pay Southard $3,000. She has not accepted the offer.

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