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Dawdy v. Union Pacific Railroad Company

August 21, 2003

WILLIAM DAWDY, JR., APPELLEE,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY ET AL., APPELLANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman

UNPUBLISHED

Docket No. 93710-Agenda 13-January 2003.

Plaintiff, William Dawdy, Jr., brought a personal injury action in the circuit court of Madison County against defendants, the Union Pacific Railroad Company and Rodney Riederer. Plaintiff sought damages for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident that occurred in Macoupin County. Defendants moved to transfer the action to Macoupin County under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The circuit court denied the motion and the appellate court affirmed. No. 5-00-0293 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

We allowed defendants' petition for leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)). We now reverse the appellate and circuit courts and remand this cause to the circuit court of Madison County with directions to transfer the cause to Macoupin County.

BACKGROUND

On the morning of May 20, 1997, plaintiff was driving a tractor westbound on Illinois Highway 108 in Macoupin County. At the same time, Riederer, acting within the scope of his employment with Union Pacific, was driving a truck eastbound on the same highway. The vehicles collided, causing plaintiff to be seriously injured.

On May 19, 1999, plaintiff filed a two-count complaint in the circuit court of Madison County. Count I alleged negligence in the operation of defendants' vehicle. Count II, addressed solely to Union Pacific, alleged that the railroad was negligent also for failing to train and supervise Riederer and for failing to ensure that vehicle attachments would not extend beyond the width of their vehicles when operated on public thoroughfares.

Defendants filed a motion to transfer venue from Madison County to adjacent Macoupin County under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. In their motion, defendants alleged as follows. Plaintiff resides in Greene County. The action arose in Macoupin County. Riederer resides in Macoupin County. Union Pacific is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Omaha, Nebraska. Union Pacific does business in Macoupin County. Of the 18 witnesses who may be called to testify at trial, most of them reside in or near Macoupin County, and none of them reside in Madison County. Also, the docket of the Madison County circuit court is more congested than that of the Macoupin County circuit court. Thus, according to defendants, Macoupin County would be the most convenient forum to try this case. Defendants argued that "this case has absolutely no connection whatsoever with Madison County, Illinois. There is no basis or reason for filing this case in this court other than `forum shopping.' "

In his memorandum in opposition to defendants' motion to transfer venue, plaintiff argued that venue in Madison County is just as convenient as in Macoupin County. Plaintiff alleged as follows. Union Pacific operates a facility in Madison County. Of the 18 potential witnesses, 14 reside in neither Madison County nor Macoupin County and, accordingly, will be required to travel regardless of where the case is tried. The average additional miles required for the 18 potential witnesses to travel to Madison County rather than to Macoupin County is approximately 18 miles per witness. Most of the witnesses conduct business regularly in Madison County. Plaintiff's attorney resides in Madison County, and defendants' attorneys reside closer to Madison County than to Macoupin County. According to plaintiff, his choice of forum is entitled to deference and defendants failed to show that the factors in a forum non conveniens analysis strongly weigh in favor of transfer.

The circuit court of Madison County denied defendants' motion to transfer. Defendants appealed. Initially, the appellate court reversed the circuit court's order and remanded the cause with directions to transfer venue to Macoupin County. However, on plaintiff's motion for rehearing, the appellate court vacated its decision and affirmed the circuit court's denial of defendant's motion to transfer venue. The appellate court held that, in light of this court's decision in First American Bank v. Guerine, 198 Ill. 2d 511 (2002), it was "compelled" to vacate its previous decision and issue a new decision affirming the circuit court's order denying defendants' motion to transfer venue to Macoupin County.

This court allowed defendants' petition for leave to appeal. 177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a). We subsequently granted the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association leave to submit an amicus curiae brief in support of plaintiff. 155 Ill. 2d R. 345.

ANALYSIS

Defendants contend that the appellate court erred in affirming the circuit court's denial of defendants' motion to transfer venue. Defendants argue, inter alia, that Macoupin County, and not Madison County, is the most convenient forum to try this case.

I. Forum Non Conveniens: Controlling Principles

The Illinois venue statute provides that an action must be commenced: (1) in the county of residence of any defendant who is joined in good faith, or (2) in the county in which the cause of action arose. 735 ILCS 5/2-101 (West 2000). If there exists more than one potential forum, the equitable doctrine of forum non conveniens may be invoked to determine the most appropriate forum. Griffith v. Mitsubishi Aircraft International, Inc., 136 Ill. 2d 101, 105 (1990); Bland v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 116 Ill. 2d 217, 223 (1987). The doctrine is based on considerations of fundamental fairness and sensible and effective judicial administration. The doctrine allows the court in which the action was filed to decline jurisdiction and direct the lawsuit to an alternative forum that the court determines can better serve the convenience of the parties and the ends of justice. Vinson v. Allstate, 144 Ill. 2d 306, 310 (1991); Wieser v. Missouri Pacific R.R. Co., 98 Ill. 2d 359, 365 (1983), quoting Adkins v. Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific R.R. Co., 54 Ill. 2d 511, 514 (1973); see Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 507, 91 L. Ed. 1055, 1062, 67 S. Ct. 839, 842 (1947).

Although the forum non conveniens doctrine has a long history at common law, its general application crystallized following Gulf Oil. See Guerine, 198 Ill. 2d at 515; Wieser, 98 Ill. 2d at 365. Illinois courts employ the analytical framework of Gulf Oil in forum non conveniens cases. See, e.g., Meyers v. Bridgeport Machines Division of Textron, Inc., 113 Ill. 2d 112, 118-19 (1986) (collecting cases), quoting Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 508-09, 91 L. Ed. 2d at 1062-63, 67 S. Ct. at 843; People ex rel. Compagnie Nationale Air France v. Giliberto, 74 Ill. 2d 90, 110-11 (1978), quoting Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 508-09, 91 L. Ed. at 1062-63, 67 S. Ct. at 843.

In Gulf Oil, the Court discussed private interest factors affecting the litigants and public interest factors affecting court administration. Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 508, 91 L. Ed. at 1062, 67 S. Ct. at 843. A court must balance the private and public interests in determining the appropriate forum in which the case should be tried. Private interest factors include the convenience of the parties; the relative ease of access to sources of testimonial, documentary, and real evidence; the availability of compulsory process to secure attendance of unwilling witnesses; the cost to obtain attendance of willing witnesses; the possibility of viewing the premises, if appropriate; and all other practical considerations that make a trial easy, expeditious, and inexpensive. See Cook v. General Electric Co., 146 Ill. 2d 548, 557 (1992); Vinson, 144 Ill. 2d at 310.

The relevant public interest factors include: the administrative difficulties caused when litigation is handled in congested venues instead of being handled at its origin; the unfairness of imposing jury duty upon residents of a county with no connection to the litigation; and the interest in having local controversies decided locally. Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 508-09, 91 L. Ed. at 1062-63, 67 S. Ct. at 843; see Cook, 146 Ill. 2d at 557; Vinson, 144 Ill. 2d at 311.

An additional consideration under the forum non conveniens doctrine is deference to the plaintiff's choice of forum. A plaintiff's right to select the forum is substantial. Unless the factors weigh strongly in favor of transfer, the plaintiff's choice of forum should rarely be disturbed. Griffith, 136 Ill. 2d at 106, quoting Jones v. Searle Laboratories, 93 Ill. 2d 366, 372-73 (1982), quoting Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 508, 91 L. Ed. at 1062, 67 S. Ct. at 843; Moore v. Chicago & North Western Transportation Co., 99 Ill. 2d 73, 77 (1983) (collecting cases); see Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 508, 91 L. Ed. at 1062, 67 S. Ct. at 843. "This deference to plaintiff's choice of forum is commonly referred to as an unequal balancing test." Wieser, 98 Ill. 2d at 366.

However, the plaintiff's choice of forum is not entitled to the same weight or consideration in all cases. "When the home forum has been chosen, it is reasonable to assume that this choice is convenient." Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 255-56, 70 L. Ed. 2d 419, 436, 102 S. Ct. 252, 266 (1981). "Similarly, when the site of the accident or injury is chosen, the choice is convenient because the litigation has the aspect of being `decided at home.' " Guerine, 198 Ill. 2d at 518; see Brummett v. Wepfer Marine, Inc., 111 Ill. 2d 495, 499-500 (1986). "When the plaintiff is foreign, however, this assumption is much less reasonable. Because the central purpose of any forum non conveniens inquiry is to ensure that the trial is convenient, a foreign plaintiff's choice deserves less deference." Piper, 454 U.S. at 256, 70 L. Ed. 2d at 436, 102 S. Ct. at 266; see McClain v. Illinois Central Gulf R.R. Co., 121 Ill. 2d 278, 289 (1988); Bland, 116 Ill. 2d at 227-28 (collecting cases). Indeed, as a panel of our appellate court has observed:

"[W]hen the plaintiff is foreign to the forum chosen and the action that gives rise to the litigation did not occur in the chosen forum, this assumption [of convenience] is no longer reasonable. Instead, it is reasonable to conclude that the plaintiff engaged in forum shopping to suit his individual interests, a strategy contrary to the purposes behind the venue rules." Certain Underwriters at Lloyds, London v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 329 Ill. App. 3d 189, 196 (2002).

We agree.

Courts have long acknowledged the existence of forum shopping:

" `[A]ll choices of tribunal are commonly used by all plaintiffs to get away from judges who are considered to be unsympathetic, and to get before those who are considered more favorable; to get away from juries thought to be small-minded in the matter of verdicts, and to get to those thought to be generous; to escape courts whose procedures are burdensome to the plaintiff, and to seek out courts whose procedures make the going easy.'

We would add that ordinarily plaintiffs' zeal in those respects is matched only by defendants' efforts in seeking to avoid such fora." Espinosa v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 86 Ill. 2d 111, 123 (1981), quoting Miles v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 315 U.S. 698, 707, 86 L. Ed. 1129, 1135, 62 S. Ct. 827, 832 (1942) (Jackson, J., concurring).

This court has acknowledged that a plaintiff, in choosing a forum, might shop for the most favorable forum. Wieser, 98 Ill. 2d at ...


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