News & Articles

08 January 2013

Fennell v. Illinois Central Railroad Company

The Illinois Supreme Court has just released its opinion overturning the appellate court in the Fennell v. Illinois Central Railroad Company case on the issue of forum non conveniens. Initially, the court stressed its concern over curtailing forum shopping by plaintiffs and then went on to hold that the circuit court of St. Clair County abused its discretion in failing to consider ALL of the private and public interest factors in its analysis. The court reminded all courts of Illinois that they must consider all of the factors in such a forum analyses. In particular, the court pointed out that the plaintiff originally filed the action in Mississippi, i.e. his first forum choice, and after the case was dismissed without prejudice, plaintiff did not choose to re-file in his first forum choice but rather then re-filed the claim in Illinois, his second forum choice. Consequently, plaintiff could hardly argue that Mississippi was less convenient than Illinois.

The Illinois Supreme Court then went on to note that the St. Clair County Circuit Court pointed out only two witnesses in Illinois that would find St. Clair County more convenient but ignored 13 or 14 other potential witnesses who resided out-of-state, including treating physicians, co-workers and family members. In particular, the court gave little weight to one of plaintiff’s two “Illinois” witnesses because he was an expert (in Chicago, IL) stating that allowing forum to remain based on that expert would be to allow plaintiff to frustrate the forum non conveniens principle by selecting experts in inconvenient forums. The court also accorded little weight to documents in the possession of defendant’s counsel’s office because the ease of accessing such documents, given the conveniences of the modern age (fax, email etc.), does not outweigh the substantial inconvenience of requiring distant witnesses to travel to Illinois. Given that the alleged exposures occurred in Mississippi, the court also noted that a possible jury view of the premises at issue is another factor that supports this matter being tried in Mississippi.

The court went on to note the circuit court’s abuse of discretion in balancing the public interest factors. The court pointed out that the burden of litigation on the public not only required a jury of Illinois citizens to sit for the trial of this out-of-state matter, but also required Illinois tax payers to pay for not only those jury fees but also the costs of providing court personnel and facilities. The court also recognized the burden to the court system itself in having to provide judicial personnel and the machinery for appellate review for the case. The court gave little consideration to the plaintiff’s reliance on the fact that the offices of counsel for both parties were located in St. Clair County as well as plaintiff’s contention that the defendant did business in St. Clair County, Illinois. The court explained that while St. Clair County may be a proper venue because of the defendant doing business there, it does not affect the forum non conveniens issue. The case was remanded to the circuit court for entry of an order dismissing the defendant pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 187(c)(2).

Fennell v. Illinois Central Railroad Company – Opinion Filed December 28, 2012