A BIG DAY AT THE ILLINOIS SUPREME COURT . . . According to Illinois Supreme Court's website, its long-awaited decision in Avery v. State Farm will be handed down today. (Link pdf.) Avery was a nationwide class action concerning non-OEM part tried to a $1.18 billion verdict in 1999. Some interesting facts about the case:
- The Avery verdict was often mentioned by proponents of the Class Action Fairness Act as a case in which a state court had wrongly "federalized" a class action, and was cited as a reason CAFA was needed;
- The substantive law used in the multi-state case was the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act, which was applied to out-of-state residents in part because State Farm was itself an Illinois resident. As an appellate judge wrote in a 2001 decision upholding the verdict, "Illinois has a legitimate interest in applying its law to adjudicate this dispute and to insure that its residents comply with its consumer-protection laws while serving Illinois and out-of-state consumers."
- The appellate judge who wrote the Avery decision was Gordon Maag, who was defeated in his 2004 bid for the Illinois Supreme Court--a race reported to be the most expensive state judicial race in American history.
- The St. Louis Post-Dispatch once published an editorial concerning the so-called "out of control" verdicts in Madison County, Illinois, and used as exhibit one the verdict in the Avery case--but the case took place in Marion County, Illinois, which is miles away and a completely different jurisdiction than Madison County. After being notified of the error, the Post-Dispatch would not correct it.
- Though the verdict was issued only about five years ago, it seems that decades have passed since then. For example, the lawyer listed first for the plaintiffs on the Avery complaint is now a federal judge in Illinois.
I have no guess as to whether the decision will change Illinois law on class actions. Keep in mind, however, that despite what you read in the newspapers, the Illinois trial judges don't make up class-action law as they go along. In fact, there is a complex body of law about nationwide class actions in Illinois extending back to 1981's Miner v. Gillette. You can read more details here, keeping in mind that CAFA affects much of the Illinois precedent on nationwide class actions.
Finally, thanks to the reader who e-mailed me the news about the decision.
UPDATE: The court's summary of its decision in Avery v. State Farm sums it up well: "All of the awards made by the circuit court now stand reversed." Meanwhile, Altria stock is up 3.5% on the news of the ruling; a $10 billion judgment against Phillip Morris is also on appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.
UPDATE II/CORRECTION: A journalist friend has alerted me to the fact that the Post-Dispatch did run a correction to the editorial I mentioned in the post. The editorial, titled "Plug the Hellhole," ran on September 19, 2003. According to Lexis, the following correction appeared the next day: "A $1.2 billion judgment against State Farm Insurance concerning aftermarket auto parts was issued in Williamson County. The wrong county was cited Friday in an editorial on Madison County courts."
While I'll take credit for this correction, I also apologize to anyone I've told over the past two years, including the readers of this post, that it never happened.