Gridley puts exclamation on Avery

By Steve Korris | Nov 22, 2005

In case anyone missed the message that the Illinois Supreme Court sent in Avery vs. State Farm, the justices added an exclamation point in Gridley vs. State Farm.

In each case, the Court chased Louisiana plaintiffs out of Illinois courts like a mother bear. Not one justice took the side of either plaintiff.

Justices knocked out the props that supported class action litigation.

And, they made Fifth District Court of Appeals decisions look foolish.

In the Avery decision of Aug. 18, the justices threw out a $1.2 billion verdict in a Williamson County class action trial.

They ruled that the trial judge allowed claims for breach of contract and consumer fraud where there was no contract and no deception.

The Court also ruled that the judge certified a plaintiff class when he should have denied it and that he awarded damages when the plaintiffs did not prove any damages.

On top of all these blows to class action theory, the justices ruled that courts may apply the Illinois consumer fraud law only to transactions in Illinois.

The Gridley case gave them a chance to emphasize that last point.

Christopher Gridley of Louisiana sued State Farm in 2000 in Madison County, claiming that State Farm declared vehicles total losses but sold them at auctions with clean titles.

State Farm moved for transfer to Louisiana on grounds of forum non conveniens. Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis, who has since retired, denied the motion.

State Farm appealed. The Fifth District Court of Appeals remanded the case to Kardis with instructions to conduct further discovery before ruling on the motion.

Both sides appealed.

The Supreme Court voted 6-0 in favor of State Farm.

“Gridley purchased his car in Louisiana and obtained automobile insurance in Louisiana,” Justice Robert Thomas wrote for the Court. “Gridley was involved in an accident in Louisiana and took his car to a repair center in Louisiana.”

He wrote that the alleged deception occurred in Louisiana and the undisclosed damage resulted from accidents in Louisiana.

“As in Avery, the majority of circumstances relating to the sale of the salvage vehicle in this case occurred primarily and substantially in Louisiana, so that Gridley does not have a cognizable cause of action under the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act,” Thomas wrote.

“It follows,” he wrote, “that the failure of Gridley’s Illinois Consumer Fraud Law claim necessarily defeats his class action claims based upon the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act.”

Relying again on Avery, he wrote that a court cannot certify a class action unless the named plaintiffs have a cause of action.

Thomas wrote that Kardis abused his discretion in denying the motion for transfer.

As in Avery, the Supreme Court rebuked the Fifth District appellate court.

The appeals judges, in an opinion written by Judge Gordon Maag, had held that a court should consider the number, identity and location of potential class members rather than limit its inquiry to the named class representatives.

Thomas wrote, “The appellate court’s order places too much emphasis on the claims of those who have not yet been, and may not be, certified as a class.”

The appellate judges had ordered further discovery because they found that both parties failed to present enough facts for the court to make an informed decision.

Thomas wrote that their order was contrary to the nature and purpose of a class action.

“Given that the nature of a class action is to allow a named representative to act on behalf of any absent class members,” he wrote, “it would be antithetical to nonetheless require a court to conduct detailed discovery into the claims of absent class members prior to deciding a forum non conveniens motion, particularly where the class has not been certified.”

Kardis and the appellate court had sought to balance public interest against private interest, but the Supreme Court wasted no time on the question of balance.

Thomas wrote, “…it is clear that the weight of the private interest factors and of the public interest factors greatly favor Louisiana over Illinois.”

Justice Lloyd Karmeier took no part in considering or deciding the case.

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