Hylla stays Sears washing machine class action

Amelia Flood Feb. 15, 2011, 1:19am


Madison County Circuit Judge David Hylla has halted a 2010 class action brought against Sears Roebuck and Co. over allegations its washing machines took too long to work and could possibly explode.

Hylla entered his order staying the class action filed by lead plaintiff Therese Dalla Riva Feb. 10.

The Madison County suit is nearly identical to a federal class action pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that is led by lead plaintiff Renee Tietsworth.

In a four-page order Hylla noted the similarities in the two cases and dismissed the plaintiff's claims that they are distinct.

"[P]laintiff's counsel has not demonstrated a significant difference between the theories of liability asserted in California and those asserted here," Hylla wrote.

"This Court finds that the claims of Dalla Riva and the proposed Illinois class members who have already had problems with their washers, arise out of the same set of operative facts as the claims of the nationwide class currently proposed in California. Furthermore, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have presented no evidence that the interests of these Illinois consumers are not being protected in California."

Hylla wrote that arguments about the harm of a stay were not persuasive.

"Plaintiff's counsel has not demonstrated any real harm to Illinois consumers by a stay of this action that would outweigh the public policy against duplicative litigation," he wrote.

"If circumstances change and real harm is threatened due to this stay, Plaintiffs can file pleadings demonstrating such conditions and petition this court to lift its stay. Because Plaintiff's lead counsel is involved in the litigation in California and Illinois, it will be in a position to know of any real harm or threat of the same."

Dalla Riva, represented by California attorney Lori Andrus and Edwardsville attorney Mark Goldenberg, proposes to lead a class of Illinois consumers who bought Kenmore Elite Oasis washing machines that allegedly had a defective electronic control boards.

The defects, according to the plaintiff, led the washing machine to stop mid-cycle causing longer running times than advertised.

The suit also claims there are instances where the washing machines have exploded.

The Tietsworth class action has dropped some of the claims asserted in the younger Madison County suit including the exploding washing machine claims.

Hylla heard arguments from Sears in September asking the judge to stay the Dalla Riva suit or to dismiss it.

"You've got some lawyers calling the shots and they didn't get what they wanted there so they've come here because they want a second shot here," Sears's attorney Michael Williams said at that hearing.

Andrus and Goldenberg argued at the same hearing that there were enough differences and merits in the Dalla Riva class action to warrant it continuing.

In his recent order, Hylla wrote that the lead attorneys for Tietsworth and Dalla Riva have not made efforts to exclude an Illinois class from the nationwide class.

He wrote that he sees no reason why the California court would not allow full discovery and that it was likely, if the Tietsworth case is certified, that the Illinois claims would fall under its resolution.

The plaintiff is also required in the order to inform the court within 30 days of a resolution of class proceedings in the Tietsworth case.

There has been little action in the Tietsworth case since November 2010.

U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel presides in California.

Stephen Strauss of Bryan Cave LLP of St. Louis also represents Sears.

The case is Madison case number 10-L- 203.

The Tietsworth case is case number CV-09-288-JF/HRL.

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