Attempt at reviving flaky Ford class action denied by Tognarelli

Steve Korris Nov. 13, 2008, 10:00am

Madison County Associate Judge Richard Tognarelli has rejected a Lakin Law Firm bid to revive a giant nine-year-old class action against Ford Motor Company.

On Oct. 29, Tognarelli denied a motion to vacate or reconsider an order he entered last December, decertifying a class action over paint that flaked off Ford vehicles.

He ruled in December that the case, involving 27 million vehicles that Ford built from 1989 to 1996, would overwhelm the court with mini-trials.

He wrote that experts would have to inspect every car to see if the owner belonged to the class.

The Lakins claimed damages that would have run into billions, but now they can seek nothing more than a paint job for plaintiff Daniel Schopp.

The Lakins sued Ford in 1999 on behalf of Joyce Phillips, a Lakin Law Firm secretary.

Ford moved to disqualify Phillips, arguing that her interests as client and employee would conflict.

Circuit Judge Philip Kardis denied disqualification.

In 2003, Kardis certified a class action for two classes.

One class would have alleged common law fraud for Ford owners in 49 states, and the other class would have alleged consumer fraud for Ford owners in 46 states.

Phillips withdrew as plaintiff for "personal reasons" in 2005, and Schopp replaced her.

When Kardis retired, the case passed to Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian.

In 2006, Matoesian denied a Lakin motion to depose Ford owner William Clay Ford Jr.

Matoesian then shed the case and others to lighten his load.

Chief Justice Ann Callis assigned the case to Tognarelli, an unelected associate judge.

Tognarelli took up a decertification motion that Ford filed after the Illinois Supreme Court delivered decisions that limited class actions.

For Ford, Robert Shultz of Edwardsville argued that individual issues predominated over common issues.

Robert Schmieder of the Lakin firm argued that the class suffered common damage from delamination due to Ford's failure to protect paint from ultraviolet light.

In his December order, Tognarelli agreed with Shultz.

"The evidence submitted demonstrates that there are many different kinds of paint problems – delamination being only one of these," Tognarelli wrote.

"Plaintiffs' contention that the sole cause of post-warranty delamination is UV exposure is contrary to the evidence before the Court," he wrote.

Even if there was a single cause of delamination, he wrote, the court would have to decide individual questions of reliance, causation and warranty issues.

"The individual issues involved in deciding these questions for nationwide classes, or even an Illinois class, would be overwhelming," he wrote.

He wrote that a separate set of questions about class members who bought used Fords would multiply the individual factual issues.

He wrote that Ford acknowledged paint problems and spent millions fixing them.

The Lakins moved to vacate or reconsider the order.

Tognarelli held a hearing in August and did not change his mind.

His Oct. 29 order disposed of the motion in two short sentences.

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Ford Motor Company
1 American Rd
Dearborn, MI 48126

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