Court’s Application Of Erroneous Legal Criteria To Decertify Class Results In Reversal

Priscilla Rosolowski was the named plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Clark Refining and Marketing. The class consisted of residents who lived near Clark’s oil refinery. They claimed the refinery was a nuisance.

A first trial judge certified the class. A second trial judge denied Clark’s motion to decertify the class. Clark tried again for decertification, but a third judge, the one who tried the case, denied Clark’s motion.

A trial resulted in a $120 million verdict against Clark, $40 million of it for punitive damages. Clark then filed motions to vacate the judgment, for a new trial, and for decertification of the class. One year later, the trial court granted Clark’s motions.

Plaintiff appealed. The question of decertification of the class took center stage. The court identified the standard of review for decertification of a class – reversal “only if the trial court abused its discretion or applied erroneous legal criteria.” In this case, the First District Illinois Appellate Court found an abuse of discretion and vacated the decertification because “the trial court applied improper legal criteria by failing to consider whether there had been changed circumstances and a decision on the merits. To the extent that its decision represented an implicit finding of changed circumstances, the trial court abused its discretion. Acting without changed circumstances and after a decision on the merits, the trial court simply lacked the statutory authority to issue the order that it did. As a result, this court must vacate the decertification order.”

Read the whole opinion, Rosolowski v. Clark Refining and Marketing, No. 1-07-0048 (6/16/08), by clicking here.