EAST ST. LOUIS – Fortunes of the Lakin Law Firm have crumbled so completely that U.S. District Judge Patrick Murphy, a former class action booster, passed up a chance to send a Lakin class action back to Madison County.
In November, Murphy denied a motion from the Lakins for remand of a suit they filed against AIG Marketing, an affiliate of AIG Insurance.
Murphy ruled in favor of AIG Marketing without even waiting for its argument.
Murphy has remanded many Lakin class actions to Madison County, after defendants removed them to federal court.
A few years ago Murphy married Patricia Littleton, a Marion attorney who associated with the Lakins in class actions.
His wife withdrew from the Lakin class actions after marrying the judge.
Murphy's decision follows U.S. District Judge David Herndon's denial of class action certification in a Lakin suit against a medical billing company in Florida.
Herndon, former partner of Lakin Law Firm founder Tom Lakin, ruled that individual issues predominated over class issues.
Now defendants in Madison County have started quoting Herndon's order in support of arguments against class actions.
The AIG case landed on Murphy's bench after Dennis Barton of the Lakin firm amended a complaint the firm filed in 2003, on behalf of Thomas Springman.
Springman originally sued AIG Insurance in Madison County, claiming the insurer improperly reduced payouts on medical bills from car crashes.
Last year, Barton asked Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder for permission to amend the complaint so Springman could sue AIG Marketing instead of AIG Insurance.
At a hearing in October, defense attorney Joseph Whyte said he told the Lakins in 2004 that they sued the wrong company.
Crowder granted leave to amend the complaint but as soon as Barton amended it, Whyte removed it to federal court.
Whyte argued that a complaint against a new defendant constituted a new case for purposes of the national Class Action Fairness Act of 2005.
Barton disputed that but Murphy rejected Barton's plea.
Murphy wrote, "…any defendant joined and served after the effective date of the statute is entitled to remove a class action…"
Barton had argued that the new complaint related back to the original complaint, but Murphy found the argument unpersuasive.
Murphy ruled that he could not strip AIG Marketing of its right to remove the suit under the Class Action Fairness Act.
The plain language of the act must prevail, he wrote.
"Although defendants have not yet filed a response to Springman's motion to remand because the time for filing such a response has not yet expired," Murphy wrote, "after careful review of Springman's asserted grounds for remand the Court concludes that a response by defendants is unnecessary to resolution of the motion."
Murphy set a Feb. 5 deadline for discovery.