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Khan v. Enterprise Rent-A-Car-Co.

December 30, 2004

AHMAD KAHN, SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF MUHAMMAD AHMAD, A MINOR, DECEASED; MAHEEN AHMAD, A MINOR, BY HER FATHER AND NEXT FRIEND, AHMAD KAHN; AND AHMAD KAHN, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES,
v.
ENTERPRISE RENT-A-CAR COMPANY, AN ILLINOIS CORPORATION, AND DIANE LOPEZ, DEFENDANTS-PETITIONERS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Joseph N. Casciato, Judge Presiding.

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

Defendants Enterprise Leasing Company of Chicago (Enterprise)*fn1 and Diane Lopez (Lopez) appeal from an order of the circuit court denying their motion to reconsider the court's denial of their motion to transfer venue in plaintiffs Ahmad Kahn*fn2 and Maheen Ahmad's negligence action from Cook County to DuPage County on the basis of forum non conveniens. In accordance with a supervisory order from the Illinois Supreme Court, on April 23, 2004, we granted defendants' petition for leave to appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 306(a)(2). 166 Ill. 2d R. 306(a)(2). On appeal, defendants contend that the trial court abused its discretion in denying their motion to transfer venue because the private and public interest factors heavily weigh in favor of transferring this case to DuPage County. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse.

[9]     STATEMENT OF FACTS

On February 25, 2003, Ahmad Kahn (Kahn), on his own behalf and as special administrator of the estate of his seven-year-old son Muhammed Ahmad (Muhammed), and Maheen Ahmad (Maheen), a minor represented by Kahn, her father, filed a complaint against Enterprise, an Illinois corporation, and Lopez, an alleged agent of Enterprise. In the complaint, plaintiffs alleged that on October 19, 2001, Lopez negligently operated a vehicle, owned by Enterprise, at or near 103 West Roosevelt Road in Villa Park, Illinois, which struck and injured both Muhammed and Maheen as they were walking across the street. Muhammed died as a result of the injuries he sustained. In counts I through IV, plaintiffs alleged claims based on wrongful death and survival in relation to the injuries sustained by Muhammed. In counts V and VI, plaintiffs alleged a claim based on "personal injuries" sustained by Maheen. In counts VII and VIII, plaintiffs sought damages for the expenses incurred in treating Muhammed and Maheen's injuries pursuant to the Family Expense Act (750 ILCS 65/15 (West 2002)).

On May 7, 2003, defendants filed a motion to transfer the action based on forum non conveniens, arguing that the private and public interest factors strongly favored transfer of the case to DuPage County.

On June 23, plaintiffs filed their answers to forum non conveniens interrogatories, in which they admitted, inter alia: the accident took place in Villa Park, which is located in DuPage County; all of the nine potential witnesses to the accident were residents of DuPage County; plaintiffs and Muhammed were residents of DuPage County; the Villa Park police department personnel were at the scene of the accident following the collision; although not identified individually or by county residency, there were potential medical witnesses from Good Samaritan Hospital (Good Samaritan) in DuPage County, where both Muhammed and Maheen received medical treatment for their injuries, and from Lutheran General Hospital (Lutheran) in Cook County where Muhammed was transferred by air and treated just before his death; and the Deputy Medical Examiner of Cook County conducted Muhammed's post-mortem examination, was a potential medical witness, and resided in Cook County.

On August 20, 2003, plaintiffs filed their response to defendants' motion to transfer, arguing that Cook County had a significant connection to their lawsuit because Muhammed was transferred to Cook County for "emergency treatment," including surgery, on October 19, 2001, died in Cook County on October 20, 2001, and was given post-mortem and toxicological analyses by the Cook County medical examiner's office. Plaintiffs also argued that Enterprise does substantial business in Cook County, that Enterprise maintains numerous business outlets and files lawsuits on a regular basis in Cook County, and that defendants had failed to show that the facts in the case strongly favored transfer to DuPage County. Plaintiffs also filed an affidavit of their attorney, in which the attorney averred that, upon review of various medical records from Good Samaritan in DuPage County and Lutheran in Cook County, he found that a craniotomy, a post-mortem examination, and a toxicologic analysis were performed on Muhammed at Lutheran. The attorney further averred that the "parties stipulate[d] that Enterprise *** does substantial business in Cook County," and that he received "a computer print-out from the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County ***, consisting of 59 pages, which demonstrates that Enterprise Rent-A-Car and/or Enterprise Leasing Company of Chicago has filed in excess of 900 cases in the First Municipal District."

During the hearing on defendants' motion to transfer, defendants' attorney, in arguing that the only relationship between this case and Cook County was the fact that Muhammed was transported to Lutheran and died at Lutheran, stated that "this is not a case where there's a causation issue. There is no doubt that [Muhammed] died from the injuries sustained in this accident. We certainly stipulate to that." On September 16, the trial court denied defendants' motion to transfer. On October 14, defendants filed a motion to reconsider, arguing that in light of our supreme court's recent decision in Dawdy v. Union Pacific R.R. Co., 207 Ill. 2d 167, 797 N.E.2d 687 (2003), the trial court abused its discretion in failing to transfer the case to DuPage County. The trial court denied defendants' motion to reconsider on November 19, 2003.

On December 19, defendants filed a petition for leave to appeal to this court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 306(a)(2) (166 Ill. 2d R. 306(a)(2)), requesting a review of the trial court's order denying their motion to reconsider. On January 15, 2004, we denied defendants' petition. In accordance with a supervisory order from the Illinois Supreme Court to consider defendants' petition, on April 23, 2004, we vacated our previous order denying the petition and granted defendants' petition for leave to appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 306(a)(2).

This appeal followed.

ANALYSIS

Defendants contend that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to follow our supreme court's decision in Dawdy. Defendants argue that private and public interest factors strongly favor that the trial of this case be held in DuPage County because: the incident that is the basis for the plaintiffs' cause of action occurred in DuPage County; defendant Lopez and plaintiffs are residents of DuPage County; all of the witnesses to the collision reside in DuPage County; the fact that subsequent medical treatment took place in a chosen forum is not listed by our supreme court in Dawdy as a factor to consider when conducting a forum non conveniens analysis, and, even if it were a proper factor to consider in conducting the analysis, both Muhammed and Maheen received medical treatment at Good Samaritan Hospital in DuPage County as well; the subsequent medical treatment given to Muhammed in Cook County is not relevant to the forum non conveniens analysis in this case because "there is no dispute as to the necessity or propriety of the medical treatment [Muhammed and Maheen] received after the occurrence at issue," but, rather, the dispute in the case at bar centers upon whether Lopez's conduct, which occurred in DuPage County and was witnessed only by DuPage County residents, was negligent; the courts of Cook County are more congested than those of DuPage County; the possibility that the jury may view the scene of the injury weighs in favor of having the trial in DuPage County; DuPage County has a strong local interest in this case, whereas Cook County has virtually none; it would be unfair to burden the citizens of Cook County with jury duty; the fact that Cook County and DuPage County are contiguous is of little consequence; the fact that Enterprise does business in Cook County is not dispositive under Dawdy and should not have been given such substantial weight by the trial court; and plaintiffs' choice of forum in the instant case deserves minimal consideration since plaintiffs do not reside in Cook County and the accident did not occur in Cook County.

Plaintiffs contend that defendants have failed to show that private and public interest factors strongly favor trial of the instant case in DuPage County because: Cook County has an interest in deciding this case locally since Muhammed's action for wrongful death arose in Cook County, where he died; Muhammed was treated with "emergent medical care," including surgery, in Cook County; a post-mortem examination was conducted on Muhammed in Cook County; Enterprise does substantial business in Cook County; and Enterprise regularly appears as a plaintiff in the Cook County courts. Plaintiffs also argue that "[t]here is significant authority establishing that non-elective medical care and/or a wrongful death in the county are significant ties to the county in a forum non conveniens analysis."

We review the trial court's decision here for an abuse of discretion. See Dawdy, 207 Ill. 2d at 176 (the trial court's decision on a forum non conveniens motion lies within its sound discretion and will not be disturbed absent an abuse of that discretion); Stringer v. Packaging Corp. of America, 351 Ill. App. 3d 1135, 1140, 815 N.E.2d 476 (2004) (the trial court's decision to grant or deny a motion to reconsider lies within its sound discretion). "An abuse of discretion will be found where no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the trial court." Dawdy, 207 Ill. 2d at 177. In other words, we must determine if the trial court abused its discretion in balancing the private and public interest factors discussed in more detail below. Dawdy, 207 Ill. 2d at 177.

Pursuant to section 2-101 of the Code of Civil Procedure, venue lies "in the county of residence of any defendant who is joined in good faith" or "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). When more than one potential forum exists, the equitable doctrine of forum non conveniens may be invoked to determine the most appropriate forum. Dawdy, 207 Ill. 2d at 171. Under this doctrine, "the court in which the action was filed [may] decline jurisdiction and direct the lawsuit to ...


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