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Huffman v. Inland Oil & Transport Co.





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Madison County; the Hon. WILLIAM L. BEATTY, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied September 3, 1981.

Plaintiff, Howard D. Huffman, brought action against defendant, Inland Oil & Transport Co., for injuries sustained by plaintiff while serving as a crew member on defendant's river towboat. The injuries allegedly occurred at a time when the vessel was located on the Tennessee River in the State of Alabama. Suit was brought in Madison County, Illinois, and following a jury trial, plaintiff was awarded damages in the amount of $185,000.

On appeal, defendant challenges the propriety of permitting the suit to be maintained in Illinois and urges (1) that the trial court erred in ruling that it had in personam jurisdiction over defendant and (2) that the court erred in denying defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds of forum non conveniens.

Plaintiff filed suit in the circuit court of Madison County, seeking to recover damages for injuries sustained in 1976 on the M/V Lady Marjorie. Suit was brought under the Jones Act (46 U.S.C. § 688 (1976)) and general maritime law. Plaintiff purported to serve process by delivering a copy of the complaint and summons to Herbert Wolkowitz, president of Inland Oil & Transport Co., at the company's office in St. Louis, Missouri. Inland filed a special appearance for the purpose of objecting to the court's jurisdiction. The appearance was supported by an affidavit of Mr. Wolkowitz, which asserted, inter alia, that the incident referred to in plaintiff's complaint did not occur in the State of Illinois and that Inland had not at any relevant time been doing business within the State of Illinois.

Subsequently, plaintiff made a second attempt at service of process by delivering a copy of the complaint and summons to Max Terrell aboard the M/V Lady Rosemary, a river towboat operated by Inland, while the towboat was near Hartford, Illinois. Inland entered a second special appearance, again supported by an affidavit of Mr. Wolkowitz. The affidavit asserted that Max Terrell was not an officer or agent of Inland Oil and was not authorized to accept service of process on behalf of Inland. The affidavit further stated that Terrell, the pilot of the Lady Rosemary, was not a regular employee of Inland Oil but had been hired only as a trip pilot to relieve other towboat pilots employed by Inland. In addition, the affidavit asserted that any visits by any of Inland's river towboats within the State of Illinois were infrequent and sporadic in nature.

In response to the second special appearance, plaintiff filed the affidavits of Michael D. Lucey, Joseph Cohn, and Gary Oplt, all of whom were employees of the law firm which represented plaintiff. The affidavit of Michael D. Lucey asserts that Lucey inspected records maintained by the Corps of Engineers with respect to traffic passing through Lock and Dam No. 27 located near Granite City, Illinois, for the period from January through July 1977. Attached to the affidavit was a list which Lucey asserted showed dates of movements, points of origin, and points of destination of vessels operated by Inland Oil. While Lucey did not claim to have personal knowledge of the vessel movements, the exhibit reflected 34 instances of Inland vessels traveling through Lock and Dam No. 27.

The affidavit of Joseph Cohn consisted of conclusions derived from the data obtained by Michael Lucey. Cohn concluded that on 11 occasions from January through July 1977, Inland picked up a total of 44 barges at a refinery in Wood River, Illinois; on four occasions, Inland delivered a total of 10 empty barges to the Wood River refinery; on five occasions, a total of 20 loaded barges were delivered to Lockport, Illinois; twice Inland picked up empty barges at Lockport; three times Inland delivered a total of 30 loaded barges to Peoria; and on three occasions, a total of 14 loaded barges were delivered in Chicago.

The affidavit of Gary Oplt asserted that Oplt contacted employees at Economy Boat Store in Wood River, who advised him that crew members of Inland vessels frequently purchase supplies, merchandise, and services from the store.

The fourth affidavit presented by plaintiff was that of Barry Wilson, a patrolman for the National Maritime Union. Mr. Wilson's affidavit set forth the customary duties of a pilot on a vessel navigating the Inland Waterway System.

Inland made no objection to the affidavits submitted by plaintiff and submitted no additional evidence or affidavits. After oral argument, the trial court overruled Inland's objection to jurisdiction, holding that both the service of process on Mr. Wolkowitz and Mr. Terrell conferred upon the court in personam jurisdiction over defendant.

Subsequently, defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds of forum non convenient. Attached was the affidavit of a defense attorney. The affidavit asserted that plaintiff was a Missouri resident, Inland was a Missouri corporation, and the accident occurred in Alabama; that the physicians who treated plaintiff and the hospitals at which plaintiff was treated were either in Missouri or Alabama; that all of the occurrence witnesses known to defendant were residents of Missouri; and that trial of the case in Madison County, Illinois, would unnecessarily burden defendant, the court, occurrence witnesses, treating physicians, and the taxpayers of Madison County. Plaintiff denied that the action had been filed in order to cause vexation to Inland or that the action would burden Inland or the witnesses. After a hearing, the motion to dismiss was denied.

At trial, witnesses established that the plaintiff lost three fingers of his right hand as a result of an incident in the pilothouse of the M/V Lady Marjorie, in which a defective hydraulic window caught and crushed plaintiff's hand. The jury found for plaintiff and rendered verdict in the amount of $185,000, and defendant appeals after judgment on the verdict was entered in favor of plaintiff. No issue is raised by defendant as to any alleged trial error.

Defendant's first allegation on appeal is that it is a foreign corporation and that the trial court erred in finding that it had ...

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