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Gridley v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company

April 09, 2002

CHRISTOPHER K. GRIDLEY, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 00-L-547 Honorable Phillip J. Kardis, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Maag

Released for publication April 11, 2002.

CHRISTOPHER K. GRIDLEY, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 00-L-547 Honorable Phillip J. Kardis, Judge, presiding.

Attorneys for Appellant: Karen L. Kendall, Brad A. Elward, John C. Mulgrew, Jr., Michael S. Seneca, Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, Suite 600, Bank One Building, 124 S.W. Adams Street, Peoria, IL 61602; Robert H. Shultz, Jr., Suite 100, 103 N. Main Street, P.O. Box 467, Edwardsville, IL 62025. Attorneys for Appellee: John W. Hoffman, Judy L. Cates, Carr, Korein, Tillery, Kunin, Montroy, Cates, Katz & Glass, 10 Executive Woods Court, Belleville, IL 62226; Mr. Ron Parry, Arnzen, Parry & Wentz, 128 East Second Street, Covington, KY 41012-0472; Mr. Emmett J. Boudreaux, Boudreaux & Whitworth, 500 Laurel Street, Suite 603, Baton Rouge, LA 70821.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Maag

 PUBLISHED

Christopher K. Gridley (plaintiff), a resident of Louisiana, filed a putative nationwide class action lawsuit in Madison County, Illinois, against defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm). The lawsuit alleged violations of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (815 ILCS 505/1 et seq. (West 2000)) and unjust enrichment. State Farm moved to dismiss the case under the doctrine of interstate forum non conveniens or, alternatively, to transfer the case to McLean County under the doctrine of intrastate forum non conveniens. The circuit court of Madison County denied the motion, and State Farm appealed.

The procedural history follows. On June 19, 2000, plaintiff filed a complaint on behalf of himself and others similarly situated. In the complaint, plaintiff claimed that State Farm, as a part of its regular business practice, failed to obtain salvage titles for vehicles which had previously been declared total losses during the claims process, in violation of state titling laws. Plaintiff claimed that State Farm engaged in this practice because vehicles with clean titles could be sold for significantly more money, thereby enhancing the profitability of its claims operation. On August 21, 2000, State Farm filed a motion to dismiss the class action complaint under the doctrine of interstate forum non conveniens. The motion claimed that Louisiana was a more convenient forum because the class representative and only named plaintiff resided in Louisiana and that all of the evidence and witnesses with knowledge regarding the purchase of plaintiff's vehicle were located in Louisiana. State Farm moved, in the alternative, to transfer the case to McLean County on the ground of intrastate forum non conveniens. On June 1, 2001, the trial court denied State Farm's motion to dismiss and alternative motion to transfer. The trial court found that State Farm had failed to demonstrate that Madison County was an inconvenient forum and that the public- and private-interest factors strongly favored a dismissal of the action or, alternatively, a transfer to McLean County, Illinois.

Forum non conveniens is a doctrine that allows a court to decline jurisdiction where a trial in another forum "would better serve the ends of justice". Vinson v. Allstate, 144 Ill. 2d 306, 310, 579 N.E.2d 857, 859 (1991). To determine whether the doctrine of forum non conveniens applies, the trial court must balance the private-interest factors affecting the convenience of the parties and the public-interest factors impacting the court's administration of its docket. Gulf Oil v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508-09, 91 L. Ed. 1055, 1062-63, 67 S. Ct. 839, 843 (1947); Torres v. Walsh, 98 Ill. 2d 338, 345, 456 N.E.2d 601, 604-05 (1983). The public-and-private-interest-factors assessment is applicable in considering both interstate and intrastate forum non conveniens motions. See Kwasniewski v. Schaid, 153 Ill. 2d 550, 553, 607 N.E.2d 214, 216 (1992). In interstate forum non conveniens motions, the plaintiff's home forum is the state in which he resides, rather than the specific county in which he resides. See Kwasniewski, 153 Ill. 2d at 553, 607 N.E.2d at 216.

The Illinois Supreme Court recently refined and reaffirmed the doctrine of forum non conveniens. First National Bank v. Guerine, No. 90950 (Ill. January 25, 2002). In Guerine, the supreme court acknowledged that the forum non conveniens standard, which requires a showing that the balance of factors strongly favors litigation in another forum, remains difficult for defendants to meet. Guerine, slip op. at 4. The supreme court reiterated the long-standing proposition that the defendant has the burden to show "that the plaintiff's chosen forum is inconvenient to the defendant and another forum is more convenient to all parties". Guerine, slip op. at 4. The supreme court noted that the plaintiff's choice of forum is entitled to less deference, as opposed to no deference, when the chosen forum is neither the plaintiff's residence nor the site of the incident or injury. Guerine, slip op. at 3. The supreme court also instructed that the defendant cannot establish an inconvenient forum by asserting that the chosen forum is inconvenient to the plaintiff. Guerine, slip op. at 4.

In considering a motion to dismiss or transfer based on forum non conveniens, the trial court is required to evaluate the total circumstances in order to determine whether the defendant has proven that the balance of factors strongly favors a transfer. Guerine, slip op. at 4. A trial court has considerable discretion in ruling on a forum non conveniens motion, and a reviewing court will not disturb the trial court's ruling absent an abuse of discretion in weighing the relevant factors. Hefner v. Owens Corning Fiberglas Corp., 276 Ill. App. 3d 1099, 1103, 659 N.E.2d 448, 452 (1995). On review, we do not substitute our judgment for that of the trial court and we do not decide whether the circuit court has exercised its discretion wisely. See Brummett v. Wepfer Marine, Inc., 111 Ill. 2d 495, 503, 490 N.E.2d 694, 699 (1986). The role of the reviewing court is to determine whether the circuit court abused its discretion. See Brummett, 111 Ill. 2d at 503, 490 N.E.2d at 699.

In Guerine, the supreme court strongly recommended that trial courts "give more careful consideration to forum non conveniens motions" and "leave a better record of their analyses" so that reviewing courts can make more informed decisions. Guerine, slip op. at 5. Implicit in this recommendation is a directive to the litigants to provide the trial court with a record of the relevant factors, supported by facts and evidence, as opposed to supposition or conjecture, in support of or in opposition to the forum motion. While Supreme Court Rule 187 (134 Ill. 2d R. 187) establishes a strict time frame for filing a forum non conveniens motion (no more than 90 days after the last day allowed for the filing of a party's answer), it also contemplates that before the motion is heard, parties may need time to conduct discovery on the issues of fact raised in the motion. In managing the case, the trial court, after considering the facts and circumstances of the particular case, has the discretion to establish a scheduling order in order to give all interested parties an opportunity for meaningful discovery on the issues raised in the forum motion. And while the court, in its discretion, may extend a hearing date for further discovery, the moving party should be aware that it has the ultimate responsibility for seeking a ruling on the motion well in advance of the trial date and that an unreasonable delay may be considered a factor weighing against a dismissal or transfer of the case based on forum non conveniens. See Bell v. Louisville & Nashville R.R. Co., 106 Ill. 2d 135, 146-47, 478 N.E.2d 384, 390 (1985).

Our supreme court has charged the trial court and the litigants with the responsibility to present a detailed record regarding the forum non conveniens analysis, and we are obligated to hold them to that responsibility. While the defendant, as the proponent of the forum non conveniens motion, has the initial responsibility to submit sufficient facts to support the requested relief, a wise plaintiff, although technically not required to do so, would be best served by presenting facts and documents in opposition to the motion. For those who doubt the consequences of a plaintiff's ...


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