Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 00-L-1235 Honorable Nicholas G. Byron, Judge, presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Goldenhersh
Honorable Gordon E. Maag, P.J., and Honorable Terrence J. Hopkins, J., Concur.
The instant litigation arises out of the choice of forum selected by Cornelius C. Dykstra (plaintiff) for his lawsuit against numerous asbestos manufacturers, sellers, and distributors. Burns International Security Corp., formerly known as Borg-Warner and Borg-Warner Corp. (Burns), Gasket Holdings, Inc., formerly known as Flexitallic Gasket Company, Inc. (Flexitallic), Certain-Teed Corp. (Certain-Teed), Pfizer, Inc. (Pfizer), Quigley Company, Inc. (Quigley), T&N, p.l.c. (T&N), United States Gypsum Company, and Union Carbide Corp. (Union Carbide) filed this interlocutory appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 306(a)(2) (166 Ill. 2d R. 306(a)(2)), contending that the trial court's denial of the motion to dismiss or transfer venue under the doctrines of interstate forum non conveniens or intrastate forum non conveniens was an abuse of discretion because there are no ties between plaintiff and Madison County. United States Gypsum Company was originally part of the group of the defendants actively challenging plaintiff's choice of forum, but it was severed from this appeal when it filed for bankruptcy protection. During oral argument on this matter, Flexitallic and T&N were also severed from this appeal when it was learned that they, too, had filed for bankruptcy protection. For the following reasons, we affirm the order of the circuit court of Madison County.
On December 5, 2000, plaintiff filed the instant litigation against more than 50 defendants. He claimed that he was exposed to asbestos-containing products which were manufactured, sold, and/or distributed by said defendants. Plaintiff suffers from malignant mesothelioma, a rapidly spreading and inevitably fatal cancer. Because plaintiff is not expected to live long, he also filed a motion to expedite the trial. On January 12, 2001, the trial court granted plaintiff's motion to expedite the trial and set a trial date of May 7, 2001.
On January 29, 2001, AC&S, Inc. (AC&S), filed a motion to dismiss or transfer venue, requesting that the case be transferred to Cook County or dismissed and refiled in Indiana, on the grounds of forum non conveniens. Not even half of the original defendants joined this motion. In support of the motion to dismiss or transfer venue, the moving defendants pointed to plaintiff's answers to interrogatories and to plaintiff's deposition, in which plaintiff stated that he was exposed to asbestos in Cook County, Illinois, and Lake County, Indiana, only. Plaintiff identified his co-workers, all of whom reside in Indiana, except for his son, James, who resides in Minnesota. Plaintiff identified his treating physicians, all of whom practice in either Chicago or Indiana.
On February 22, 2001, a hearing was held on the motion. The instant matter was heard, along with three other similar motions concerning Illinois asbestos plaintiffs. The movants proceeded solely under the theory that the instant case has no factual connection to Madison County. They failed to offer any evidence concerning the convenience, costs, or experience of either Cook County, Illinois, or Lake County, Indiana, in dealing with asbestos litigation. Defense counsel who argued the motion alleged that Cook County could try this case within six months of a transfer, possibly even three or four months, but he failed to offer any affidavits from court administrators. He simply alleged that someone from his law firm had made inquiries to certain courts. The movants did not offer any evidence as to why it would be more convenient for them to try the case in Cook County rather than in Madison County. While the trial court was aware that Cook County has an asbestos docket, neither the trial court nor the parties knew if Lake County, Indiana, had a similar court. The defense attorney admitted that no one had "done any investigation as to the Indiana court's ability to hear this [case] upon transfer."
On the other hand, plaintiff asked the trial court to take judicial notice of numerous factors that make Madison County an efficient forum in which to try an asbestos case. Plaintiff supplied the trial court with statistical evidence that it takes eight months longer to get a case to trial in Cook County than it does in Madison County. Plaintiff pointed out that Madison County has established procedures for processing asbestos litigation quickly and efficiently, including a standing order that came about through the collaboration of plaintiff's attorneys, defense attorneys, and the circuit court, as well as a central records depository, which contains all the documentation necessary for the liability phase of an asbestos trial. After hearing all the evidence and arguments of the parties, the trial court noted that it had "serious reservations about the Indiana resident." The trial court stated that if it could be certain that plaintiff would receive a fair and speedy trial within 60 to 90 days, it would transfer the case to Indiana, but because no such evidence had been presented, the trial court denied the motion to dismiss or transfer venue, specifically relying on Hefner v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 276 Ill. App. 3d 1099, 659 N.E.2d 448 (1995). Defense counsel asked the trial court to take plaintiff's case under advisement for five to seven days to give the movants time to get an affidavit from Cook County or Lake County or both. The trial court directed defense counsel to obtain an affidavit and then file a motion to reconsider. The movants failed to obtain said affidavit and failed to file a motion to reconsider.
AC&S immediately filed a petition for leave to appeal to this court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 306(a)(2) and a motion for a supervisory order with our supreme court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 383 (155 Ill. 2d R. 383). North American Refractories Company and Allied-Signal, Inc., joined in that appeal. On March 15, 2001, our supreme court entered a supervisory order directing us to allow the interlocutory appeal in this case, which it later declared applicable to all the defendants. AC&S, North American Refractories Company, and Allied-Signal, Inc., later withdrew their appeal. The record here indicates that the only defendants actively appealing are Burns, Certain-Teed, Pfizer, Quigley, and Union Carbide (defendants).
On appeal, defendants contend that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied the motion to dismiss or transfer venue under the doctrine of forum non conveniens because Madison County has no connection to this litigation. Defendants note that plaintiff is a not a resident of Madison County, never received treatment in Madison County, and was not exposed to asbestos in Madison County. Defendants insist that no reasonable person would conclude that this case should be filed in Madison County. We disagree.
The doctrine of forum non conveniens presupposes the existence of more than one forum having jurisdiction and venue. It is well-settled that a plaintiff has a substantial right in selecting the forum in which to commence his or her cause of action. Peile v. Skelgas Inc., 163 Ill. 2d 323, 337, 645 N.E.2d 184, 191 (1994). If the plaintiff does not reside in the county where he filed suit or if the accident did not occur in the county where he filed suit, his choice of forum is given less deference. Whirlpool Corp. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's London, 295 Ill. App. 3d 828, 836-37, 692 N.E.2d 1229, 1235-36 (1998). However, it is important to remember that less deference is not synonymous with no deference. Regardless of the deference given to the plaintiff's right to select a forum, the defendant still bears the burden of showing that the plaintiff's chosen forum is inconvenient to the defendant and that another forum is more convenient to all the parties. Whirlpool Corp., 295 Ill. App. 3d at 837, 692 N.E.2d at 1236. The standard of review is whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying the defendant's motion to dismiss or transfer on the basis of forum non conveniens. Peile, 163 Ill. 2d at 336, 645 N.E.2d at 190.
In determining whether a defendant has met its burden to show that the plaintiff's chosen forum is inconvenient and another forum is more convenient, a court is to consider several private- and public-interest factors. The analysis is the same in both interstate and intrastate situations. Turner v. Jarden, 275 Ill. App. 3d 890, 894-95, 656 N.E.2d 1125, 1128 (1995). Private-interest factors include: "(1) the relative ease of access to sources of proof, (2) the accessibility of witnesses, (3) the possibility of a jury view of the premises, and (4) all other practical problems that make a trial of a case easy, expeditious, and inexpensive." Roberts v. Illinois Power Co., 311 Ill. App. 3d 458, 460-61, 723 N.E.2d 1180, 1182 (2000). Public-interest factors include the following: "(1) having localized controversies decided in the local forum, (2) the administrative concerns, including the congestion of court dockets, and (3) the imposition of jury duty upon *** a county with little or no connection to the litigation." ...