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Class certification is governed by 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/2-801 (1998), which is patterned after Fed. R. Civ. P. 23. Given the relationship between these two provisions, federal decisions interpreting Rule 23 are persuasive authority with regard to questions of class certification in Illinois. Under 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/2-801, a class may be certified only if the proponent establishes the four prerequisites set forth in the statute: (1) numerosity (the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable); (2) commonality (there are questions of fact or law common to the class, which common questions predominate over any questions affecting only individual members); (3) adequacy of representation (the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interest of the class); and (4) appropriateness (the class action is an appropriate method for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy). 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/2-801 (1998).
Michael Avery and other named plaintiffs brought a class action in the circuit court of Williamson County against defendant, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm). Representing a nearly nationwide class of State Farm policyholders, plaintiffs alleged claims sounding in breach of contract and statutory consumer fraud, in addition to a claim seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The circuit court certified the class. The breach of contract claim was tried before a jury, and the remaining claims received a simultaneous bench trial. The jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiffs on the breach of contract claim, and the circuit court entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs on the consumer fraud claim. With regard to the third count, the circuit court granted declaratory relief but declined to grant injunctive relief. The damages awarded to plaintiffs totaled $ 1,186,180,000. The appellate court affirmed the judgment, with one exception. The appellate court reversed a portion of the damages, lowering the total award to $ 1,056,180,000. 321 Ill. App. 3d 269, 746 N.E.2d 1242, 254 Ill. Dec. 194. The company's petition to appeal was allowed.
Was it error for the circuit court to conclude that the operative language in State Farm's various policies could be given a uniform interpretation such that the successful adjudication of the contract claims of some class members would establish a right to recovery in other class members?
The court held that the jury was incorrectly instructed that the operative language in the insurer's various policy forms could be given a uniform interpretation. Further, the verdict could not be affirmed for any subclass of policyholders who were insured under any of the relevant individual policy forms. There was no basis in the law for specification damages. As to the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, the supreme court found that the circuit court erred in certifying a nationwide class that included class members whose claims proceedings took place outside Illinois. The only putative class that could exist was a class consisting of policyholders whose vehicles were assessed and repaired in Illinois. Because the representative policyholder had not proven his claim for consumer fraud, there could be no Illinois class for the policyholders' consumer fraud count.