Fate of pending class actions may rest on Price decision

By Steve Korris | Feb 1, 2006

If plaintiff attorneys succeed in restoring a $10 billion class action verdict over light cigarettes, they will also rescue other class actions.

The Illinois Supreme Court decision in Price vs. Philip Morris, as it stands, would draw out a stream of motions to dismiss class actions.

Three defendants in a proposed Madison County class action had already moved to dismiss because of the Price decision when plaintiffs recently moved the Court to reconsider Price.

Comfortex, Hunter Douglas and Springs argued in Alsup vs. 3-Day Blinds that Price barred any claim that they manufactured, distributed or sold dangerous mini blinds.

In Price, the Court ruled that tobacco companies did not improperly advertise light cigarettes, because the Federal Trade Commission specifically authorized the advertising.

In Alsup, defendants argue that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission specifically authorized the design of the mini blinds.

Illinois consumer fraud law allows no claim of damages for actions that a federal agency specifically authorized.

The Illinois Supreme Court broadened that protection by ruling that federal authority did not have to be express in order to be specific.

If the mini blind suit continues it will set records. It appears to propose a class with a population between that of the United States and that of India.

Jeffrey Lowe of Clayton filed it last Feb. 17 for Ronald Alsup of Edwardsville and Robert Crews of Granite City.

Lowe wrote that cords on the blinds strangled 339 persons in 30 years, but the complaint sought damages for the living rather than the dead.

Lowe wrote, "The class is comprised of hundreds of millions of individuals." He wrote that a billion sets were in use in the U.S.

He accused 61 defendants of negligence, consumer fraud, breach of implied and expressed warranties, and civil conspiracy.

Most defendants filed motions to dismiss Sept. 28, arguing that federal law pre-empted the claims.

Attorney John Briggs of St. Louis wrote for Marietta Drapery and Window Covering that plaintiffs identified no connection between their alleged injuries and his client's products or actions.

He wrote, "Any action by a state court to ban all mini blinds – exactly what the CPSC has decided not to do – would frustrate the accomplishment and purpose of Congress' carefully constructed regulatory scheme for consumer products."

A few defendants settled, and Circuit Judge Daniel Stack dismissed them by joint stipulation. Stack signed May Department Stores out of the case Jan. 27.

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