February 18, 2006, the first anniversary of the federal Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), came and went with barely a whimper around these parts. But it's safe to say that the law has made as positive an impact here as anywhere.
Consider that the Lakin Law Firm of Wood River alone filed 75 class action lawsuits at the Madison County Courthouse in 2003. This year, they've filed none.
That's good news from the front-- the place that probably most inspired CAFA in the first place. The Lakin Firm and Belleville's Korein Tillery led a deluge of filings during the beginning of this decade that effectively branded the Metro-East as America's "Class Action Capitol." Some local politicians even defended the surge, suggesting that our communities could benefit from what they dubbed "litigation tourism."
We did get one visitor, anyway. President George W. Bush used Collinsville as a backdrop for his push for national lawsuit reform, demanded by those businesses being dragged across the country and into our courtroom. The shoe fit, as so many precious examples originated here-- like the lawyer (Emert Wyss) who sued so much he accidentially sued himself, or the woman (Sharon Price) who sued Philip Morris for misleading her into buying light cigarettes, though she still smoked light cigarettes.
CAFA has slowed the Lakins and Tillerys of the world by requiring them to file larger class actions-- those with plaintiffs across several states where $5 million or more was potentially at stake-- in federal court, a more level playing field for their corporate targets.
The net of this measure has been plain remarkable. 103 class actions were filed in Madison County in 2003 and another 82 in 2004. But only 46 such cases were filed all of last year-- and just ten after President Bush signed the bill into law.
In 2006, not a single class action has been filed in Madison County.
This doesn't mean frivolous lawsuits are gone forever, or that our litigious culture is a thing of the past. The most inventive plaintiff's lawyers are still searching for an opening, such as filing class action cases that involve only Illinois plaintiffs. And to be sure, most of the lawsuits filed during those salad days are still meandering their way with teeth through our courts system.
Things still look the same.
But the local litigation machine knows they are not.
Who says Congress cannot make a positive difference?