Federal judge dismisses Cassens from personal injury suit

Attorney Charles Armbruster

Attorney Gordon Broom

EAST ST. LOUIS – U. S. District Judge Michael Reagan has dismissed businesses of the Cassens family as defendants in a personal injury suit, ruling that plaintiff Timothy Rosenburg sued the businesses for no reason but to keep the case out of federal court. Other defendants in the case accused Rosenburg of fraudulent joinder, arguing that no state court would rule against the Cassens businesses. Reagan agreed, and his March 15 order showed that the case disgusted him. He described it as "wading through a great deal of unnecessary vitriol." Vitriol is sulfuric acid, one of the most corrosive substances on earth. Reagan wrote that he "did not consider the substantial number of irrelevant exhibits provided by both parties, but especially by Plaintiffs, regarding discovery issues and depositions in other cases." He wrote that he would not examine motives behind objections of attorneys in depositions from past cases or arguments they made or did not make in past cases. He affirmed the right of the Cassens family to operate different entities, a practice which plaintiff attorneys have attacked time and time again. "Plaintiffs' jurisdictional memorandum is full of a great deal of suspicion about Cassens Corporation and the other Cassens defendants," he wrote. "But there is nothing per se illegal, nefarious or even unseemly about holding companies in general or about families creating corporations to structure their dealings and reap tax benefits or any other benefits which might come easier to corporations than to individuals," he wrote. Rosenburg worked for Cassens Transport, hauling automobiles on a trailer. He and his wife Debbie filed suit last April in Madison County circuit court, alleging that he suffered injuries due to defects in the trailer. As first defendant he named Cottrell Inc., a Georgia company that makes trailers. He also named automakers Toyota, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors. He did not sue Cassens Transport, because the Illinois workers compensation law would preclude recovery againt his employer. Instead he sued Cassens & Sons, Cassens Corporation, Allen Cassens, the Allen Cassens Trust and A. C. Leasing Company. The Cassens defendants moved in July for summary judgment, arguing that they did not place the trailer into the stream of commerce. Cottrell, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors removed the case from Madison County to the federal court in August. They argued that they had not removed it sooner because they had not spotted the fraud in the joinder of the Cassens businesses. The Rosenburgs moved to remand the case to Madison County. After both sides filed briefs on jurisdiction, the plaintiffs asked to amend their complaint and the defendants did not object. The new complaint changed the allegations so much that the defendants moved to strike it. They argued that the Rosenburgs amended the complaint for no reason except to keep Reagan from denying the motion to remand. Reagan agreed that the amendment went well beyond what he expected. He wrote that the plaintiffs tailored it to get around arguments in the defense memorandum. "It would be simply unfair for the Court to allow Plaintiffs to amend their complaint to counter Defendants' jurisdictional memorandum in case their own jurisdictional memorandum is unpersuasive," he wrote. "Thus the amended complaint cannot assist Plaintiffs in their quest to remand the case," he wrote. He wrote that he would allow portions of the amended complaint to stand. Those portions assert five counts against Cottrell and three counts against each automaker. As for the Cassens defendants, he found no evidence that they participated in the design or operation of trailers, and no evidence that they were involved in any transaction in any manner that would open them to liability. Reagan e-mailed his decision to plaintiff attorney Charles Armbruster of the Lakin Law Firm in Wood River and to attorneys for the defendants.

More Stories