Downsized class action awaits Weber discovery ruling

Steve Korris Nov. 2, 2006, 11:21am

Madison County Circuit Judge Don Weber, who shrank a national class action suit against United Life Insurance to an Illinois class action, must now decide whether to squeeze the suit down from 15 years to three years.

United Life attorney James Garrison of St. Louis has told Weber that when he confined the case to Illinois he automatically applied the state's three year statute of limitations.

Daniel Cohen of the Lakin Law Firm, representing Christopher Booher of Wood River, would rather stick to the generous time frame that Weber's predecessor, Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis, approved.

Class representative Booher in his youth played baseball with Brad Lakin, now of the Lakin firm. They went to high school together.

Cohen filed suit for Booher in 2001, alleging fraud in sales of United Life credit insurance to car buyers. Booher had bought a car at Four Flags Motors.

At a hearing before Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis, Cohen estimated that 60,000 persons bought United Life insurance without knowing they bought it.

He said Four Flags kept a 43 percent kickback.

Kardis in 2003 certified a national class action under common law fraud and a class action for 44 states under consumer fraud laws.

Kardis limited discovery to the last five years, but when Cohen asked him to reconsider he allowed everything from 1991 to the present.

In a 2004 deposition Booher said he first believed Four Flags kept the money at a social event when a friend said he was working on kickbacks at auto dealerships.

He said he asked his friend to look into his contract.

An attorney in the deposition asked who his friend was. Booher said his friend was Brad Lakin. Booher said, "I grew up with him."

In 2005 Kardis retired, leaving many class actions in the lurch. The Illinois Supreme Court then cast a cloud over all class actions with its decision in Avery v. State Farm.

United Life moved to decertify the class. Weber did not decertify it, deciding this year that under Avery it should proceed on Illinois claims only.

Cohen then asked United Life to identify class members from 1991 through 2000, with current addresses, social security numbers, sales prices and dealer costs.

He asked United Life to identify all Illinois dealers authorized to sell United Life insurance from 1991 through 2000.

He asked for all documents relating to marketing and advertising directed to dealers and the public from 1991 to the present.

Garrison did not answer, and Cohen moved Sept. 20 to compel answers.

Cohen told Weber that Kardis specifically rejected a defense request to limit temporal boundaries in the class definition.

Cohen wrote that Kardis expressly allowed discovery "on all issues for the period of 1991 through to the present."

He wrote that Weber narrowed the geographic scope of the class but he did not narrow its temporal identification or the scope of discovery.

Garrison objected for United Life, arguing that Cohen wanted information "from a time period which is many years longer than the limitations period for the Illinois claims in this case."

Weber set a hearing Oct. 19, but cancelled it. He has not reset it.

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