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Minton v. Helena Marine Service

OPINION FILED JULY 1, 1986.

HARRISON MINTON, JR., PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

HELENA MARINE SERVICE, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County; the Hon. Horace L. Calvo, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE HARRISON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied July 28, 1986.

Plaintiff, Harrison Minton, Jr., filed a complaint in the circuit court of Madison County, Illinois, pursuant to the Merchant Seamen Act, commonly called the Jones Act (46 U.S.C.A. sec. 688 (West 1975)), and the general maritime law of the United States. Defendant, Helena Marine Service, filed a motion to decline jurisdiction as to either all or part of the complaint based upon forum non conveniens. The motion was denied. This court granted defendant's petition for leave to appeal under Supreme Court Rule 306(a)(1)(ii) (103 Ill.2d R. 306(a)(1)(ii)). We affirm.

Plaintiff filed a four-count complaint in Madison County circuit court on April 29, 1983, seeking damages for personal injuries which allegedly occurred in two separate accidents while plaintiff was employed by defendant. Counts I and II allege that plaintiff was injured in a fall on the motor vessel Tince Hendrix on the Mississippi River on or about October 4, 1980. No further details as to the location are stated in the complaint. However, defendant's answer alleges this accident, if it occurred, occurred in Louisiana. Counts III and IV allege that plaintiff was injured in a fall on the motor vessel Rosemarie Waldon on the Mississippi River at or near Quincy, Illinois, on or about August 13, 1981.

Summons was served on defendant in Pulaski County, Arkansas. Defendant's answer to the complaint asseverated that Illinois was not a convenient forum for the case. Defendant then filed a motion to sever counts I and II and decline jurisdiction as to those counts based upon forum non conveniens. Defendant subsequently filed an amended motion asking the court to decline jurisdiction over all four counts, or, in the alternative, to sever counts I and II and decline jurisdiction as to those two counts. Supporting the amended motion was the affidavit of the president of Helena Marine Service. The affidavit asserted that plaintiff was at all times a resident of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, that defendant's principal place of business is in Little Rock, Arkansas, that defendant does no business in Illinois, and that all records pertaining to plaintiff's employment are kept at Helena, Arkansas. The affidavit also stated that there are seven crew members who would be potential witnesses to the accident alleged in counts I and II, and that all seven reside in Arkansas. Only two of them are still employed by defendant. There are six crew members who would be potential witnesses to the accident alleged in counts III and IV, and two of them reside in Arkansas, one in Mississippi, one in Kentucky, one in Tennessee, and one in Iowa. Only one of these six witnesses still works for defendant. The affidavit further asserts that plaintiff sought medical care after both incidents from a doctor in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Plaintiff filed no affidavits or other documents to deny the facts alleged in defendant's affidavit or to allege additional facts.

The circuit court denied defendant's amended motion to decline jurisdiction.

Defendant argues on appeal that the court erred in denying its motion because the State or Federal courts of Arkansas or perhaps Kentucky would be more convenient fora for plaintiff's case than Illinois. Defendant has not filed a motion based upon intrastate forum non conveniens, but rather claims the action cannot be conveniently heard in any court in Illinois. We thus are faced with an interstate forum non conveniens question.

• 1 In reviewing a court's decision on a motion to decline jurisdiction based upon forum non conveniens, we are limited to a determination of whether the court abused its discretion. (Brummett v. Wepfer Marine, Inc. (1986), 111 Ill.2d 495, 503-04, 490 N.E.2d 694, 699.) It is not our function to determine whether the trial judge exercised his discretion wisely, but only whether that discretion has been abused. 111 Ill.2d 495, 503-04, 490 N.E.2d 694, 699.

Numerous factors involving private and public interests must be considered when comparing the relative convenience of competing fora. (Brummett v. Wepfer Marine, Inc. (1986), 111 Ill.2d 495, 499, 490 N.E.2d 694, 696.) Defendant points to the following factors which it contends indicate Illinois is not a convenient forum: defendant's principal place of business is in Arkansas; plaintiff's employment records are in Arkansas; many of the occurrence witnesses live in Arkansas and are not subject to compulsory process in Illinois; plaintiff resides in Kentucky, and he received medical treatment there; and the Madison County circuit court docket has a backlog. Defendant cites these factors to claim the State or Federal courts of Arkansas or perhaps Kentucky are more convenient fora for plaintiff's action. However, the injury alleged in two of the counts occurred in Illinois.

• 2 The supreme court's recent opinion in Brummett, announced after oral argument in the present case, addressed circumstances very similar to those presented here. There, in a Jones Act case, both the plaintiff and defendant were residents of Tennessee, defendant had no place of business in Illinois, eight of the nine crew members at the time of the accident were residents of Tennessee and the ninth was a resident of Florida, and plaintiff's employment records were in Tennessee. However, the accident in which the plaintiff was injured occurred in Illinois. The supreme court noted that in Piper Aircraft v. Reyno (1981), 454 U.S. 235, 255-56, 70 L.Ed.2d 419, 436, 102 S.Ct. 252, 266, the United States Supreme Court declared that when the plaintiff chooses his home forum it is reasonable to assume that the chosen forum is convenient. Our supreme court then held:

"The plaintiff's choice of forum should be entitled to no less deference when in a tort action he choses the situs of the injury rather than the forum of his residence. [Citation.] * * * The factual connection to the forum is as great, perhaps greater, when the plaintiff chooses the forum where an accident occurred as when he chooses his place of residence. Moreover, Illinois has an interest in protecting persons and property within the State from unsafe practices and conditions; the State should therefore provide a forum in which persons, no matter where they reside, can seek compensation for injuries suffered in Illinois." (Brummett v. Wepfer Marine, Inc. (1986), 111 Ill.2d 495, 499-500, 490 N.E.2d 694, 697.)

The court focused further on this factor when it stated:

"There is clearly an overriding element of essential fairness in condoning the choice by an injured party of the forum in which the injury was suffered. It also makes for sensible and effective judicial administration for a claim to be pursued in the forum where it arose. Where the plaintiff files his claim at the situs of his injury there is a clear nexus with the forum, and the plaintiff cannot be charged with forum shopping." (111 Ill.2d 495, 500, 490 N.E.2d 694, 697.)

Applying the holding in Brummett, we find that plaintiff's choice of Illinois as the forum for his case is entitled to great deference due to the fact two of the ...


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