Madison County Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian must decide whether to whittle down a colossal Lakin Law Firm class action against Ford Motor Company or shut it down.
Matoesian has set a March 30 hearing on a Ford motion to decertify a 47 state class action that Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis certified four years ago.
Kardis' order still stands, but at a hearing last year Robert Schmieder II of the Lakin firm said he likely would reduce the class to 10 states.
The Lakin firm sued in 1999, claiming Ford failed to warn buyers that paint might flake off a Ford, Lincoln or Mercury made from 1989 to 1996.
The Lakin firm sued on behalf of Joyce Phillips, a Lakin firm secretary.
Ford challenged her adequacy as proposed class representative, arguing that her job created a conflict of interest with her counsel.
Kardis disagreed and Phillips continued to pursue certification.
In 2002 the Lakin firm added a plaintiff, Daniel Schopp.
In 2003 Kardis certified Phillips and Schopp to represent two classes – those whose top coat failed and those whose clear plastic coat failed.
His order extended to some buyers of used Ford vehicles.
Kardis never brought the case to trial. He retired in 2005.
The Illinois Supreme Court then knocked the props out from under class actions by overturning a $1.2 billion verdict from Williamson County, in Avery v. State Farm.
The Lakin firm's suit against Ford bounced to Matoesian.
Phillips withdrew as lead plaintiff, and the Lakin firm replaced her with four new plaintiffs.
Ford moved to decertify the classes in light of the Avery decision.
According to Ford, the Avery decision requires individual inspection of every vehicle, defeating the commonality that class action requires.
In a March 9 brief for Ford, Peter Herzog of St. Louis wrote that Ford sold more than 27 million vehicles in the United States from 1989 to 1996.
Quoting Avery, he wrote that, "…conducting thousands or even millions of individual vehicle inspections means that 'questions affecting individual class members would predominate over common questions.'"
He wrote, "Paint on automobiles will not last forever."
He quoted owner guides that advised, "Do not wash your vehicle with hot water. Also do not wash your vehicle while it sits in direct sunlight or while the body is hot."
He wrote that plaintiffs alleged Ford could identify class members through records of Ford, its dealers, or repair shops.
He wrote, "These statements are incorrect."
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Ford Motor Company
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