Moran dusts off docket, gets into class action spring cleaning

Steve Korris Feb. 16, 2005, 6:56am

Circuit Judge George Moran Jr.

Nuns of the Sisters of Divine Providence may fully appreciate that cleanliness is next to godliness after Madison County Circuit Judge George Moran Jr. throws out several old class action cases that have not been pursued by plaintiffs—namely one that had accused them of cheating.

Moran has set aside March 30 for spring cleaning saying he will dismiss seven cases unless attorneys show up at conferences to keep them open.

In 2002, George Garrigus and Janetta Sparks claimed that the Sisters’ wrongly withheld sick leave pay from hundreds, maybe thousands, of employees at St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Granite City, which was a named co-defendant.

The complaint had been amended to drop the Sisters as defendants. But the hospital fired back that it employed at will, and workers had no right to sick leave pay. Garrigus and Sparks replied to that, although in two years since, nothing has happened.

“We do not want to carry these as open cases any more,” Moran said.

In other dormant cases, Moran aims to dispose of a pair of car insurance cases that started together and stopped together.

Four years ago, James Richardson sued Progressive Premier Casualty and Keith Huff sued Hartford, claiming the insurers paid less than fair value on total losses. Two years ago, Richardson and Huff amended their complaints. Nothing has happened since.

Moran plans a last look at two mortgage disputes that stalled after lenders ran into bigger problems. After five county residents charged that Firstplus Bank violated state interest law with excessive finder’s fees, the bank filed for dissolution in California. After Mary Yarbrough filed the same claim against First One Lending, Moran stayed her case pending a decision from a bankruptcy court.

Dust busting in Moran’s docket should clear up two cases that court records identify as both dismissed and open.

In one, Rodney Miller of Wood River claimed that Ford Motor misrepresented the size and performance of radiators in its towing package for its F-150 truck. In the other, former county resident Robert Bennett claimed that Sprint failed to tell wireless phone customers that it rounded the time of calls up to the next full minute.

Dismissing all seven would leave Moran with 15 active class actions cases. He has the lightest class action load among four full time judges in civil court, partly because many of his cases have moved quickly to settlement.

“If both sides have good attorneys, a settlement is probably better than what I could bring about,” Moran said. “You can’t do it all the time, but I try to get the lawyers to talk and resolve it themselves.”

He said he learned the value of settlements as a family court judge. “If something could be worked out and they all agreed to follow it, that was better for everybody,” he said. “Those are the ones you will likely never see again.”

Last year, one of his cases wrapped up in four months. Elaine Bolam claimed that her former employer, Bassett Furniture, did not pay all the commissions it owed employees upon separation from the store. The store moved to transfer venue, but at the hearing, Bolam and the store told Moran they had settled.

Three other times, parties have settled class actions within six months of Moran’s assignment. One of those cases had run two years under another judge.

At the moment, Moran has three class actions at the top of his agenda.

He has set management conferences March 2 on an old and a new case. In the old one, Ricky Kelly of Hartford claimed in 2000 that Progressive Premier Insurance used inferior parts in auto repairs. In the newer one, Ronald Nash of Edwardsville claimed last fall that Beelman River Terminals of Venice failed to pay time and a half to employees who worked more than 40 hours in a week.

In January, Moran denied a motion to dismiss a suit that Nellie Jean Martin of Granite City and Georgina Toothaker of Collinsville filed last year against Bayer and GlaxoSmith Kline. Martin and Toothaker claimed the companies deceptively advertised Baycol, a drug to reduce cholesterol, and concealed the danger of taking it with another drug, gemfibrozil. Claiming no injury, they seek partial refund of the purchase price.

Moran has no class certification hearings on his calendar. To certify a class action, a judge must find that the number of plaintiffs makes joinder impractical, that common questions predominate over individual ones, that counsel can adequately represent the class and that class action is fair and efficient.

In 2001, Moran certified six plaintiffs as representatives of a class that bought Light brands of RJ Reynolds cigarettes. The six claimed they did not receive what RJ Reynolds purported to sell -- cigarettes with substantial reductions of tar and nicotine. Claiming no injury, they asked a return of the purchase price.

Moran set trial for 2003, but stayed it pending an Illinois Supreme Court decision in the Price v. Philip Morris cigarette case, which is expected in the summer.

Last year, Moran certified physician Timothy Kaiser as representative of a class in his claim that Blue Cross Blue Shield wrongly reduced payments for services. The parties settled and Moran entered judgment. He set a fairness hearing May 12, with an April 1 deadline for class members to object to the settlement or exclude themselves from it.

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