In one of the funniest sequences in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, John Cleese as the Black Knight blocks King Arthur’s passage across a bridge and a sword fight ensues. Arthur lops off one of the knight’s arms, but he refuses to yield, insisting that the wound is “just a scratch.”
Arthur lops off the other arm (“Just a flesh wound,” Cleese insists) and then both legs, but still the knight refuses to concede.
Obstinate as he is and impervious to reality, the Black Knight has nothing on the plaintiffs in Avery v. State Farm, an utterly meritless class action suit that lingered on for a decade and a half and even now seeks to be reincarnated as a RICO case against the triumphant defendant.
Avery was certified as a class action in Williamson County Circuit Court in 1997, with policyholders from 48 states claiming that State Farm had violated its contracts by using generic aftermarket parts to repair insured vehicles.
A jury decided for the plaintiffs in 1999 and the Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed the decision in 2001.
But the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously reversed the billion-dollar award in 2005, concluding that plaintiffs had suffered no harm, that the class was too diverse to be certified, that consumer protection laws of one state cannot be applied to residents of another, and that State Farm had fulfilled its contractual obligations.
Nevertheless, Avery dragged on for six more years, until late 2011 when the State Supreme Court denied plaintiffs’ motion to reconsider its 2005 decision.
That was just a scratch, however, a mere flesh wound, and the Avery plaintiffs fought on.
In May of 2012, they and some of their original lawyers filed suit in the Southern District of Illinois, accusing State Farm, et al. of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations (RICO) Act by creating an enterprise to evade the original billion-dollar judgment.
It would be funny if it weren’t real.