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Franklin v. Fmc Corp.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Thomas Janczy, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiffs, Bonnie Franklin and Wendell Franklin, filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County, seeking to recover for personal injuries sustained by Bonnie in an accident while at work at the Joan-of-Arc manufacturing plant in Hoopeston, Illinois, located in downstate Vermilion County. Defendants (FMC Corporation and the Allen-Bradley Company) moved to dismiss the cause in Cook County based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens, asserting that Vermilion County was a more appropriate venue in which to litigate the case. The circuit court denied that motion, and we granted defendants leave to appeal. We now reverse the circuit court's judgment and remand the cause.

Plaintiffs are residents of Milford, Illinois, a village located in Iroquois County; it is also some 11 miles distant from Vermilion County. FMC Corporation, a foreign corporation, does business in Hoopeston; it maintains its registered agent, however, in Chicago, where its principal place of business is located. Co-defendant Allen-Bradley Company, another foreign corporation, also does business in Hoopeston and has a registered agent in Chicago; its principal place of business is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In the complaint, it was alleged that a corn-cutting machine, and a conveyor belt used in conjunction with it, were unreasonably dangerous and caused plaintiff's injuries. FMC had manufactured the corn-cutting machine and the conveyor belt in Vermilion County and sold it to the Illinois Canning Company, the predecessor corporation of Joan-of-Arc. The Allen-Bradley Company manufactured an on/off switch used on the machine.

After the accident, plaintiff was taken to the Hoopeston Community Hospital, also in Vermilion County. Later during her recovery, plaintiff received additional treatment in Springfield, Illinois, in Sangamon County. Springfield is located roughly 115 miles from the Vermilion County courthouse, and is about 187 miles distant from the Cook County courts.

The machinery at issue herein is still in use in Hoopeston, and documentation pertinent to its manufacture, use, and maintenance is to be found there. Training of employees in the usage of the apparatus was done in Hoopeston, and, with one exception, all the individuals who have inspected the machinery are employees of FMC in Hoopeston. The individual from outside Hoopeston is a resident of downstate Champaign County. Other Joan-of-Arc employees are alleged to have knowledge relevant to this case; obviously they live in or near Vermilion County.

• 1 The sole issue presented herein is the question of whether the circuit court erred in its application of the doctrine of forum non conveniens. In view of both the tenuous connection between Cook County and this litigation and the substantial relationship between Vermilion County and the case, the latter venue was, by far, the more appropriate forum to hear the case. It follows that the circuit court's refusal to cede jurisdiction to the Vermilion County courts constituted reversible error.

The Illinois Supreme Court recognized the intrastate application to the doctrine of forum non conveniens for the first time in Torres v. Walsh (1983), 98 Ill.2d 338, 456 N.E.2d 601. The court stated therein:

"In finding that trial courts have such authority, we emphasize the factors to be taken into consideration in making the decision: the availability of an alternate forum, the access to sources of proof, the accessibility of witnesses, the relative advantages and obstacles to obtaining a fair trial, the congestion of the court dockets, and the convenience of the parties. We also caution our trial courts that unless those factors strongly favor the defendant, then the plaintiff should be allowed to exercise his choice in deciding in what forum to bring the case when venue is proper." (98 Ill.2d 338, 351, 456 N.E.2d 601.)

These were the traditional factors courts had taken into account in analyzing interstate transfers based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens. This approach to weighing the merits of a motion to transfer a cause based on the doctrine has been characterized as an "unequal balancing test" (Wieser v. Missouri Pacific R.R. Co. (1983), 98 Ill.2d 359, 366, 456 N.E.2d 98) in which a plaintiff's right to choose the forum from among those where the action potentially could be brought is accorded great deference. (Torres v. Walsh (1983), 98 Ill.2d 338, 349, 456 N.E.2d 601.) That deference, while broad, is not entirely unfettered. The Torres court itself cautioned against the misuse of the doctrine, stating "we hope to promote fair play between plaintiffs and defendants and discourage the incessant jockeying for a more sympathetic jury likely to come forward with a more substantial award." (98 Ill.2d 338, 351, 456 N.E.2d 601.) Later, in Foster v. Chicago & North Western Transportation Co. (1984), 102 Ill.2d 378, 383, 466 N.E.2d 198, the court noted the continued vitality of the requirement that a nexus exist between the forum and the litigation, stating "[t]his court has consistently held that a case should not be tried in a forum that has no significant factual connections to the cause of action. [Citations.]" The Foster court went on to hold that the mere fact that defendant's rail trackage ran through a particular forum (creating jurisdiction) did not provide a sufficient connection to the litigation to defeat a forum non conveniens transfer motion, where the accident occurred elsewhere and other factors favored trial in a venue other than that chosen by plaintiff.

In any application of the doctrine of forum non conveniens, there are multiple forums possessing jurisdiction over the parties and subject matter in which the case might appropriately be pursued. (Weiser v. Missouri Pacific R.R. Co. (1983), 98 Ill.2d 359, 362, 456 N.E.2d 98.)

"Forum non conveniens is a doctrine that is founded in considerations of fundamental fairness and sensible and effective judicial administration. In the application of these basic considerations a court may decline jurisdiction of a case `even though it may have proper jurisdiction over all parties and the subject matter involved' [citations], whenever it appears that there is another forum that can better `serve the convenience of the parties and the ends of justice.' [Citation.]" (Adkins v. Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific R.R. Co. (1973), 54 Ill.2d 511, 514, 301 N.E.2d 729.)

• 2 The decision as to which venue ought to hear the case is entrusted to the sound discretion of the circuit court hearing the motion to dismiss the cause under the doctrine. That determination, like plaintiff's selection itself, is entitled to substantial deference and will be set aside only where the court has abused its discretion in the first instance. See Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno (1981), 454 U.S. 235, 257, 70 L.Ed.2d 419, 436, 102 S.Ct. 252, 266; Jones v. Searle Laboratories (1982), 93 Ill.2d 366, 373, 444 N.E.2d 157.

We note at the outset that the case properly could have been commenced in either of the two target venues. The Code of Civil Procedure permits suit in the county of residence of any defendant joined in good faith (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110, par. 2-101) and further fixes the residence of foreign corporations in any county in which that firm does business, has an office, or maintains its registered agent (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110, par. 2-102). Both defendants herein were "doing business" in Vermilion County, and both ...

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