Illinois Law Update: Madison County Rules in Favor of Defense

Posted: 10/11/2017

This morning the Madison County Circuit Court granted a defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in an asbestos case brought by Gunty & McCarthy which has the potential to greatly impact other pending litigation as well as future filings. In issuing the order, the court explained to those present that the plaintiff was being granted leave to amend the complaint to include factual specificity as to what defendant is alleged to have done that supports specific jurisdiction, and noting it must be in line with the requirements set forth in the GlaxoSmithKline case (icon GlaxoSmithKline.pdf (1113 KB)). In that case, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, ruled that the plaintiffs met the "lenient and flexible" "arising from" and "related to" standard, and thus met the low threshold of a prima facie showing that their claims arose from the defendant GSK's Paxil trials in Illinois. Once the plaintiffs meet that initial prima facie burden, the burden switches to the defendant to overcome the plaintiff's case for jurisdiction by offering un-contradicted evidence that defeats jurisdiction. The court held that defendant GSK conducted a part of its general business in Illinois and the plaintiffs' claims arose out of the very trials conducted in part in Illinois. The fact that the contested plaintiffs are not Illinois residents did not destroy the jurisdiction established on the basis of GSK's activities here. As such, the Illinois Appellate court held that similar reasoning supporting specific jurisdiction applies and GSK's claim that nonresidents may not sue a nonresident in Illinois is unavailing.

In our case, the Madison County court emphasized that the plaintiff must show that the defendant's activities arise out of Illinois and it is more than just doing business in Illinois. They must show (1) what the defendant did (2) how that conduct is related to the claim and (3) how much business the defendant is doing in Illinois that is related to the claim. Plaintiffs must lay out the activities that occurred in the State of Illinois and then get discovery on those limited issues, but the complaint must be specific. The court further explained that even a specific complaint does not necessarily create a prima facie case even if very specific. The discovery the plaintiff will be entitled to early on will be on the points at issue; not all areas. The court also noted this is a case by case decision based on the specificity of the allegations in the complaint (thereby avoiding any general precedent on these cases, as a whole). Lastly, the court noted that Illinois uses the "but for" test and the plaintiffs allegations must meet that criteria.

Though Illinois is a fact pleading state, the Madison County court has always permitted the plaintiff's bar to serve complaints that essentially amount to notice pleading. With today's ruling in this case, the plaintiffs will be required to plead much more fact specific complaints against the defendants if they want to survive the jurisdiction challenge. While the court ruled on this motion in chambers before only the involved parties, news of this ruling will likely get around the circuit quickly and complaints from the plaintiffs' attorneys will likely take on a much more fact specific approach going forward, though to what extent remains to be seen.

For defendants over which there is no general jurisdiction in Illinois, specific jurisdiction would appear to be the only remaining avenue by which plaintiffs can hope to hold such defendants in Illinois cases, and consequently, fewer cases will likely be filed against those defendants here unless the plaintiffs can connect up an Illinois product exposure to something the defendant did in Illinois. We will keep you advised as to how, if at all, this ruling affects future Madison County asbestos litigation.