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01/09/96 RONNIE W. WALKER v. AMERICAN RIVER

January 9, 1996

RONNIE W. WALKER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
AMERICAN RIVER TRANSPORTATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 93-L-500. Honorable Paul E. Riley, Judge, presiding.

The Honorable Justice Kuehn delivered the opinion of the court: Rarick and Goldenhersh, JJ., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kuehn

The Honorable Justice KUEHN delivered the opinion of the court:

On June 11, 1992, the M/V Cooperative Venture and her crew navigated the waters of the upper Mississippi River, near Lock and Dam 20. Ronnie Walker (Walker) was a member of that crew. As he and a mate, Ted Hegge, were pulling on a ratchet, Walker hurt his back. On April 30, 1993, Walker filed suit in Madison County, Illinois, to recover damages from his employer under the Jones Act. 46 U.S.C. ยง 688 (1982).

Defendant, American River Transportation Company, filed a motion to transfer venue under the doctrine of intrastate forum non conveniens, complaining of Madison County's lack of practical connection to the litigation. Walker hails from Pocahontas, Arkansas. He sustained his injury aboard the M/V Cooperative Venture at a point upon the Mississippi that forms the border between Lewis County, Missouri, and Adams County, Illinois. The defendant conducts business in Madison County but maintains its home office in Macon County, Illinois. The defendant requested transfer to Adams County, the most proximate Illinois forum to the site of Walker's injury. Alternatively, defendant requested transfer to Macon County where it maintains its home office.

The trial court denied the defendant's forum motion. Defendant appeals pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 306(a)(2) (155 Ill. 2d R. 306(a)(2)), contending that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to transfer the case.

Defendant rests faith in the absence of any practical connection between the litigation and Madison County. Defendant contends that because Walker's chosen forum fails to bear any practical relationship to the litigation, reversal is compelled under Peile v. Skelgas, Inc. (1994), 163 Ill. 2d 323, 645 N.E.2d 184, 206 Ill. Dec. 179. We disagree and affirm the decision of the trial court.

Peile did not alter the doctrine of forum non conveniens. Justice McMorrow's opinion reaffirms the doctrine's value and purpose. Peile revisits the doctrine's development and the framework for its application. The legal principles that guide our decision are meticulously set forth in Peile. The discussion of those principles includes a passage that requires scrutiny. The precise instruction reads as follows:

"In most instances, the plaintiff's initial choice of forum will prevail, provided venue is proper and the inconvenience factors attached to such forum do not greatly outweigh the plaintiff's substantial right to try the case in the chosen forum. If, however, the litigation has no practical connection to the forum, and the defendant establishes the necessary showing under the doctrine, the court should grant the motion for transfer." (Emphasis added.) Peile, 163 Ill. 2d at 335-36, 645 N.E.2d at 190.

The doctrine of forum non conveniens is entirely consistent with a plaintiff's statutory right under section 2-101 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-101 (West 1992)) to select a proper venue in which to commence an action. The doctrine does not mandate a transfer of venue based upon a defendant's showing of criteria that connect the case with other possible venues which the plaintiff might have selected. In order to overcome the plaintiff's right to choose the forum, the defendant must "establish the necessary showing under the doctrine." The doctrine defers to the plaintiff's choice unless a defendant can establish that convenience factors weigh strongly in favor of a transfer. ( Griffith v. Mitsubishi Aircraft International, Inc. (1990), 136 Ill. 2d 101, 106, 554 N.E.2d 209, 143 Ill. Dec. 274.) A defendant seeking transfer from a forum that bears no practical connection to the litigation still shoulders the responsibility of meeting this burden under the doctrine.

Since a necessary showing under the doctrine is required, even absent practical connections between the litigation and the chosen forum, the battle is joined and decided by the "battle over minutiae" -- the various details that form recognized factors guiding a path to the forum of convenience. A review of the private- and public-interest factors that formed the basis of the trial court's decision demonstrates sound and reasoned judgment not warranting reversal.

Walker lives in Pocahontas, Arkansas. The company he sues maintains its home office in Decatur, Illinois. Walker was injured on waters of the Mississippi that flowed in close proximity to Quincy, Illinois. Walker did not file his action where he lived, where he was injured, or at his employer's principal place of business. Walker's choice of forum is accorded less deference. Peile, 163 Ill. 2d at 336, 645 N.E.2d at 191.

After Walker's injury, the M/V Cooperative Venture continued its course downstream to Hannibal, Missouri. Walker was taken ashore at Hannibal and administered medical treatment. As he rode the current of the Mississippi to Hannibal, Walker passed by and got a glimpse of Adams County, Illinois. The Adams County courtroom in Quincy bears a practical relationship to this litigation by virtue of its geographical proximity to the waters of the Mississippi where Walker got hurt. Not a single witness in this matter hails from Adams County. The only thing that bears witness to this case in Adams County is the ebb and flow of the Mississippi River. The fact that the injury occurred while navigating waters adjacent to Adams County connects the forum to the litigation. But nothing about the situs of the injury in this case renders Adams County a particularly convenient forum in which to litigate the case.

The company that operated the vessel on which Walker sustained injury tracks its operations from a home office in Decatur, Illinois. Decatur is located in Macon County, where reports of what happened to Walker aboard the M/V Cooperative Venture are compiled. The Macon County courtroom in Decatur bears a practical relationship to this litigation by virtue of the records stored there. Not a single witness in this matter hails from Macon County. The fact that defendant stores its records in Macon County connects the forum to the litigation, ...


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