Sludge suit against GM waiting for judge's signal

Steve Korris Apr. 16, 2009, 3:00pm


Like an idling engine, a giant class action claim against General Motors holds its place in the Madison County courthouse while lawyers wait for a signal to start rolling.

Lawyers claim General Motors poured defective coolant into 40 million new engines.

Sludge accumulated in engines and caused mechanical problems, they allege.

Matthew Armstrong, of King Marker Armstrong in St. Louis, sued General Motors in 2003, on behalf of Granite City residents Robin Flynn and Cheryl Hall.

Armstrong sought to recover damage that sludge caused to Flynn's 2000 Chevrolet Impala and Hall's 2000 Oldsmobile Alero.

Flynn and Hall also sought damages from coolant makers Shell and Chevron.

Ernest Coy, Joe Whatley and Peter Burke of Birmingham, Ala., added their names to the complaint.

General Motors removed the suit to federal court in East St. Louis, and District Judge Michael Reagan sent it back to Madison County.

Armstrong asked Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron to certify Flynn and Hall as class representatives for everyone who bought a General Motors vehicle since 1996.

In 2004 Armstrong added a claim from plaintiff Harry Reed of Pontoon Beach, owner of a 1998 Chevrolet S-10 Blazer.

Flynn, Hall and Reed settled with Shell and Chevron.

General Motors moved to dismiss, advising Byron that it made 40 million vehicles in the class period.

The vast majority of buyers never had a sludge problem and never would have a sludge problem, General Motors argued.

General Motors also moved to strike class allegations.

Byron denied both motions in November 2004.

Hall withdrew as plaintiff in January 2005, due to a "family situation."

Flynn withdrew in March 2005, for the same reason.

Reed, as sole remaining plaintiff, can count on plenty of legal assistance.

In September 2005, Marker Armstrong withdrew and the Kansas City firm of Shughart, Thomson and Kilroy declared itself in charge.

In October 2005 lawyer Richard Paul III declared himself lead counsel.

In November 2005 Reed still counted the Birmingham lawyers as his counsel.

He listed Shamberg, Johnson and Bergman of Kansas City as his counsel.

He listed Girard, Gibbs and Bartolomeo of San Francisco as his counsel.

In December 2005 the firm of Stueve, Siegel, Woody and Hanson in Kansas City joined Reed's team.

Neither side filed a motion or a brief from 2006 to 2008.

Byron kept setting case management conferences, and at each one both parties asked him to continue it.

After Byron's retirement last fall, Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth set a case management conference for this February.

Both sides moved to continue it, and he set another conference for May 27.

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