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First National Bank v. Guerine

January 25, 2002

FIRST NATIONAL BANK ET AL., APPELLANTS
v.
RICHARD GUERINE ET AL., APPELLEES



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Fitzgerald

UNPUBLISHED

On the evening of September 26, 1999, Richard Guerine of Melrose Park, Cook County, was driving his Jeep Carryall on Somonauk Road in De Kalb County, pulling a speedboat on a trailer manufactured by J.Q. Tex, Inc. (J.Q. Tex), a Mishawaka, Indiana, corporation. The trailer broke away from Guerine's vehicle, crossed the road into oncoming traffic, and struck head-on a Hyundai Accent driven by Angel Malone of Batavia, Kane County. Angel was pronounced dead on arrival at Valley West Community Hospital in Sandwich, De Kalb County. Dr. L.W. Blum, a coroner's physician from Rockford, Winnebago County, performed an autopsy on Angel's body and reported her cause of death as head trauma due to blunt force injuries she suffered in the accident.

Detective Rogers, Sergeant Newby, and Deputy Sullivan of the De Kalb County sheriff's police investigated the accident scene. These officers interviewed Guerine, his passenger Ashley McKinney of Melrose Park, Cook County, and Randall Baker, an eyewitness from Sandwich, De Kalb County. The record does not indicate whether the officers spoke with Guerine's other passenger, April Tischer of Addison, Du Page County, or Angel's passengers, her two minor sons Christopher and Samuel. According to J.Q. Tex, Guerine's vehicle, boat, and trailer were stored in De Kalb County.

First National Bank, as executor of Angel's estate, and Christopher and Samuel, by their father and Angel's husband, Patrick Malone, filed a nine-count wrongful-death complaint in the Cook County circuit court against Guerine for negligent operation of his vehicle, and J.Q. Tex for defective design and manufacture of the boat trailer. The parties engaged in a limited amount of discovery, which revealed the location of potential witnesses. The plaintiffs, in their interrogatory answers, stated that Patrick lives in St. Charles, Kane County, with Christopher, Samuel, and Michelle Schumpert. The plaintiff's interrogatory answers also listed James and Bonnie Schumpert, Angel's parents, who live in Somonauk, De Kalb County, as persons with relevant information.

J.Q. Tex filed a forum non conveniens motion to transfer venue to De Kalb County. The trial court granted this motion, stating:

"It appears to me that all we have here is defendant and one witness in Cook County, an accident that clearly has no connection to Cook County, a boating accident.

There is nothing alleged here that there is [sic] numerous other cases pending against this J Q in Cook County, and it's an ongoing problem, et cetera, et cetera.

So I am basing my decision on that I think it strongly favors transfer.

*** I'm deciding the case on the whole state of the record, but the accident also happened in De Kalb. The police officers are from De Kalb. The streets were in De Kalb. Let the De Kalb people hear their litigation, and their burden *** of the jury consideration of the case. I think it's in conformance with Illinois law, the decision, and if you look at the books, I've done a lot of cases where I stuck my neck out for plaintiffs and the Appellate Court refused to allow it. So they made a believer out of me."

The trial court gave the plaintiffs a choice between transferring the case to De Kalb County, where the accident occurred, or Kane County, where the Malone family lives. The plaintiffs chose Kane County, but filed an interlocutory appeal under Supreme Court Rule 306(a)(2) (166 Ill. 2d R. 306(a)(2)). The appellate court denied the plaintiffs' petition for leave to appeal, and the plaintiffs sought review from this court. We granted the plaintiffs' subsequent petition for leave to appeal. See 177 Ill. 2d R. 315.

For the first time since Peile v. Skelgas, Inc., 163 Ill. 2d 323 (1994), we are called upon to evaluate the continued vitality of the intrastate forum non conveniens doctrine. We reaffirm that the doctrine is Illinois law, but we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in granting J.Q. Tex's motion to transfer venue. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

ANALYSIS

Section 2-101 of the Code of Civil Procedure provides: "every action must be commenced (1) in the county of residence of any defendant who is joined in good faith and with probable cause for the purpose of obtaining a judgment against him or her and not solely for the purpose of fixing venue in that county, or (2) in the county in which the transaction or some part thereof occurred out of which the cause of action arose." 735 ILCS 5/2-101 (West 2000). Here, the plaintiffs filed their complaint in Cook County, where Guerine resides. Before the trial court, J.Q. Tex did not dispute that venue is proper in Cook County. Rather, J.Q. Tex asserted, another venue is more appropriate than Cook County. In ruling on a forum non conveniens motion, a trial court enjoys considerable discretion. Peile, 163 Ill. 2d at 336; see Fender v. St. Louis Southwestern Ry. Co., 49 Ill. 2d 1, 4 (1971). Accordingly, the sole issue before us is whether the trial court abused its discretion in granting J.Q. Tex's motion to transfer venue.

Forum non conveniens is an equitable doctrine "founded in considerations of fundamental fairness and sensible and effective judicial administration" (Adkins v. Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific R.R. Co., 54 Ill. 2d 511, 514 (1973)), which allows a trial court to decline jurisdiction in the exceptional case where trial in another forum with proper jurisdiction and venue "would better serve the ends of justice" (Vinson v. Allstate, 144 Ill. 2d 306, 310 (1991)). Although the forum non conveniens doctrine has a long history at common law, its general application crystalized following the ...


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