Supreme Court won't reopen Avery v. State Farm

Ann Maher Nov. 17, 2011, 10:54am


SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois Supreme Court announced today that it will not reopen Avery v. State Farm.

It denied plaintiff lawyers' motion to recall a mandate the Court issued in 2005, overturning a $1.2 billion Williamson County jury verdict against State Farm.

Lawyers for lead plaintiff Michael E. Avery in September argued that new evidence required recall of the high court's decision.

Their petition stated that State Farm had concealed support of Justice Lloyd Karmeier in the election of 2004.

Karmeier and Justice Robert Thomas did not participate in the decision announced today.

Avery's attorneys had also petitioned the Court to disqualify Karmeier from taking part in the decision to reopen.

The Court dismissed the motion as moot.

The Court also granted State Farm's motions to strike affidavits of witnesses Doug Wojcieszak and Daniel L. Reece whose statements supported the plaintiffs' motion to recall and vacate.

Karmeier and Thomas did not take part in those decisions either.

In the Williamson County verdict, State Farm was accused of providing inferior parts for vehicle repairs.


In 2001, after jurors found State Farm provided about five million persons with inferior parts, Williamson County Circuit Judge John Speroni entered judgment for $1.2 billion.

State Farm appealed, and Fifth District appellate judges affirmed Speroni.

State Farm appealed again, and the Supreme Court heard arguments in 2003.

In 2004, with the decision pending, voters elected Karmeier.

Plaintiffs moved to recuse him, claiming State Farm contributed to his campaign.

Karmeier didn't recuse himself, and his colleagues declined to disqualify him.

The Court reversed the Fifth District in 2005, with six Justices agreeing that Illinois judges can't certify national class actions under Illinois consumer fraud law.

The six also agreed that Illinois judges can't certify national class actions on claims for breach of contract.

Four Justices refused to allow subclasses, while two would have remanded the case so Speroni could determine whether he could uphold part of the verdict for a subclass.

The opinion radically reduced the scope of class action litigation in Illinois and rippled through courts across the land.

This Sept. 8, nine lawyers petitioned to vacate the decision and recall the mandate.

They wrote that "State Farm deliberately lied to and misled this Court."

They inflated their prior estimate of State Farm support for Karmeier from $350,000 to more than $3 million.

They added almost $2 million by treating Illinois Civil Justice League and its political action committee as components of Karmeier's campaign.

They added $1 million that State Farm sent to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

They wrote that Ed Murnane of the Civil Justice League ran Karmeier's campaign.

They wrote that Karmeier "needed State Farm's enormous financial and powerful political support to secure election to a seat on this Court."

They submitted an affidavit from former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Daniel Reece, swearing Karmeier knew State Farm used the Civil Justice League to elect him.

A single Illinois lawyer, Lloyd Chatfield of Lake Bluff, signed the petition.

Don Barrett of Lexington, Miss., who prevailed as lead counsel at trial, signed it.

So did five Tennessee lawyers, one from Louisiana and one from Washington, D.C.

Robert Shultz of Edwardsville responded for State Farm, along with four New York City lawyers and two from Chicago.

They wrote that the petition didn't allege prejudice on Karmeier's part.

They wrote that the purpose of the recusal rule in the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct would be subverted if lawyers invoked it for tactical advantage.

They wrote that "the petition is years beyond the statutory two year period allowed for reopening a judgment."

They wrote, "The picture plaintiffs attempt to paint has no relationship to reality."

"Contrary to plaintiffs' contentions, State Farm does not control the United States Chamber of Commerce."

They wrote that Murnane wasn't manager, employee or finance chairman for Karmeier.

They wrote that the Civil Justice League included the state medical society, the academy of family physicians, the state engineering council, the structural engineers association, state hospital and health care associations, the Metropolitan Health Care Council, National Federation of Independent Business, the state manufacturers association, the state Chamber, the retail merchants association, Farm Bureau, Caterpillar, Motorola, CNA Insurance, John Deere, Brunswick, Allstate Insurance and Kraft General Foods.

"Plaintiff's contention that a single member, State Farm, influenced and controlled the entire organization is simply contrary to common sense," they wrote.

They wrote that even if Karmeier hadn't participated in the Avery appeal, the Court would have reversed the Fifth District.

"Plaintiffs are not entitled to have all or any part of the appellate court's legally erroneous decision reinstated, immunized from review by this Court, and granted precedential value in future cases," they wrote.

Steve Korris contributed to this report.

The Madison County Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

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