State Farm tries to block reopening of $1 billion Avery case

By Steve Korris | Sep 30, 2011

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier

SPRINGFIELD – Lawyers aiming to reopen a $1 billion class action against State Farm and disqualify Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier from hearing it haven't brought out any new evidence, according to State Farm.

"Plaintiffs' petition advances the same contentions plaintiffs advanced in their prior attempts to attribute to State Farm campaign contributions made by other organizations and entities," State Farm lawyers wrote on Sept. 19.

"Illinois through its Constitution has determined that its Supreme Court Justices should be chosen through elections, and campaign contributions are a necessary component of that system of judicial elections," they wrote.

"As before, plaintiffs' attempt to disqualify Judge Karmeier rests upon unfounded speculation and unscrupulous innuendo and brings discredit not on Justice Karmeier but on the attorneys who filed the petition," they wrote.

They wrote that the Court's opinion in Avery v. State Farm has been settled law for more than six years.

They pointed out that 13 opinions from state supreme courts, 69 from appellate courts and 160 from trial courts relied on the opinion.

"The finality of judgments is a fundamental principle of our legal system," they wrote.

"Plaintiffs' petition not only asks this Court to disturb State Farm's long vested interest in the final judgment in this case, but also to undermine the validity of these hundreds of other decisions."

Michael Avery and others sued State Farm in Williamson County in 1997, claiming it provided inferior parts for vehicle repairs.

Circuit Judge John Speroni certified a class action.

In 2001, after jurors found State Farm provided about five million persons with inferior parts, Speroni entered judgment for a little more than $1 billion.

State Farm appealed, and Fifth District appellate judges affirmed Speroni.

State Farm appealed again, and the Supreme Court heard arguments in 2003.
In 2004, with the decision pending, voters elected Karmeier.

Plaintiffs moved to recuse him, claiming State Farm contributed to his campaign.

Karmeier didn't recuse himself, and his colleagues declined to disqualify him.

The Court reversed the Fifth District in 2005, with six Justices agreeing that Illinois judges can't certify national class actions under Illinois consumer fraud law.

The six also agreed that Illinois judges can't certify national class actions on claims for breach of contract.

Four Justices refused to allow subclasses, while two would have remanded the case so Speroni could determine whether he could uphold part of the verdict for a subclass.

The opinion radically reduced the scope of class action litigation in Illinois and rippled through courts across the land.

This Sept. 8, nine lawyers petitioned to vacate the decision and recall the mandate.

They wrote that "State Farm deliberately lied to and misled this Court."

They inflated their prior estimate of State Farm support for Karmeier from $350,000 to more than $3 million.

They added almost $2 million by treating Illinois Civil Justice League and its political action committee as components of Karmeier's campaign.

They added $1 million that State Farm sent to the U. S. Chamber of Commerce.

They wrote that Ed Murnane of the Civil Justice League ran Karmeier's campaign.

They wrote that Karmeier "needed State Farm's enormous financial and powerful political support to secure election to a seat on this Court."

They submitted an affidavit from former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Daniel Reece, swearing Karmeier knew State Farm used the Civil Justice League to elect him.

A single Illinois lawyer, Lloyd Chatfield of Lake Bluff, signed the petition.

Don Barrett of Lexington, Miss., who prevailed as lead counsel at trial, signed it.

So did five Tennessee lawyers, one from Louisiana and one from Washington, D. C.

Robert Shultz of Edwardsville responded for State Farm, along with four New York City lawyers and two from Chicago.

They wrote that the petition didn't allege prejudice on Karmeier's part.

They wrote that the purpose of the recusal rule in the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct would be subverted if lawyers invoked it for tactical advantage.

They wrote that "the petition is years beyond the statutory two year period allowed for reopening a judgment."

They wrote, "The picture plaintiffs attempt to paint has no relationship to reality."

"Contrary to plaintiffs' contentions, State Farm does not control the United States Chamber of Commerce."

They wrote that Murnane wasn't manager, employee or finance chairman for Karmeier.

They wrote that the Civil Justice League included the state medical society, the academy of family physicians, the state engineering council, the structural engineers association, state hospital and health care associations, the Metropolitan Health Care Council, National Federation of Independent Business, the state manufacturers association, the state Chamber, the retail merchants association, Farm Bureau, Caterpillar, Motorola, CNA Insurance, John Deere, Brunswick, Allstate Insurance and Kraft General Foods.

"Plaintiff's contention that a single member, State Farm, influenced and controlled the entire organization is simply contrary to common sense," they wrote.

They wrote that even if Karmeier hadn't participated in the Avery appeal, the Court would have reversed the Fifth District.

"Plaintiffs are not entitled to have all or any part of the appellate court's legally erroneous decision reinstated, immunized from review by this Court, and granted precedential value in future cases," they wrote.

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Organizations in this Story

Caterpillar Inc. CNA Financial Corporation Illinois Supreme Court

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