Defendants dwindling in class with hundreds of million members

Steve Korris Oct. 26, 2006, 11:57am

Jeffrey Lowe

Defendants in the grandest of all Madison County class action claims have asked Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian to smash the case to pieces.

One by one, defendants in a suit over dangling cords on window blinds moved in October to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

They claim the suit does not establish a strong enough connection between them and Illinois to justify keeping them in an Illinois court.

In response, plaintiff attorney Jeffrey Lowe of Clayton argues for Illinois jurisdiction because defendants engaged in a nationwide conspiracy.

Circuit Judge Daniel Stack has not set a hearing on the motions.

Plaintiffs Ronald Alsup of Edwardsville and Robert Crews of Granite City claim that at least 60 manufacturers, distributors and retailers conspired to conceal a risk that dangling cords could strangle people.

They claim no personal injury. They seek damages equal to the difference between what they paid for window blinds and what they would have paid if they had known the risk.

In their complaint, which Lowe filed last year, they seek to represent "hundreds of millions" of window blind buyers.

In response to one of the personal jurisdiction motions, Lowe wrote on Oct. 6 that Illinois courts can exercise personal jurisdiction over nonresidents "to the fullest extent due process will permit."

He distinguished between general and specific jurisdiction, and counted this as a case of specific jurisdiction.

"Even a single act by the defendant can create a substantial connection with Illinois and justify this Court exercising specific jurisdiction," he wrote.

"Illinois has an interest in resolving this dispute because its citizens have been harmed and its laws violated…"

He also wrote, "…it is in the interest of all states that this Court exercise its personal jurisdiction as plaintiffs have made related claims against over 60 defendants, and a dismissal would require the same lawsuit to be litigated in numerous forums."

A conspiracy theory satisfied the Illinois long arm statute, he wrote.

"Jurisdiction exists in Illinois if a defendant has expectations that the products of its co-conspirators might be used in Illinois, even if the defendant does not benefit from these products or know of their specific distribution," he wrote.

Defendant Wal-Mart has attacked the suit from another angle, moving Oct. 13 to dismiss for failure of service.

Cody Moon of O'Fallon wrote, "…plaintiffs made no effort to serve Wal-Mart with summons and complaint for one year and provided no legitimate excuse for doing so."

Moon wrote that they could have served Wal-Mart at any of its four stores in Madison County.

He wrote that plaintiffs claimed a unique circumstance in suing more than 60 defendants.

"Plaintiffs, of course, cite no authority for the remarkable proposition that their decision to sue a large number of defendants somehow excuses them from their duty to properly serve the defendants they chose to sue," he wrote.

By their reasoning, he wrote, if they sued 120 defendants they would get two years to obtain service.

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