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McGinty v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co.

November 3, 2005


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 03-L-1446. Honorable A. A. Matoesian, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McGLYNN

Norfolk Southern Railway Company (Norfolk Southern) appeals from the trial court's September 29, 2004, denial of its motion to dismiss on the basis of interstate forum non conveniens. On December 2, 2004, we granted Norfolk Southern's petition for leave to appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 306(a)(2) (166 Ill. 2d R. 306(a)(2)). There is no dispute that venue in Madison County, Illinois, is proper, because Norfolk Southern does business in Madison County. See 45 U.S.C. §56 (2000). On appeal, Norfolk Southern argues that there is no connection between the claim filed and Madison County, Illinois, and that, therefore, under the doctrine of interstate forum non conveniens, the claim should have been dismissed.

The plaintiff, Patrick K. McGinty (McGinty), alleges repetitive- trauma injuries to his back, neck, shoulders, and knees. He claims that these injuries occurred over the 30-year duration of his employment with Norfolk Southern, for whom he worked as a laborer/machinist and special agent. McGinty filed his claim in Madison County circuit court pursuant to provisions of the Federal Employers' Liability Act (45 U.S.C. §51 et seq. (2000)).

McGinty resides in Liberty, Missouri, a community close to Kansas City. At no time during his Norfolk Southern employment did McGinty live in Madison County or anywhere else in Illinois. McGinty alleges that there was a brief period of time during which he performed Norfolk Southern work in Madison County. In essence, McGinty claims that because his injuries are of a repetitive type and because he did work at least some period of time in Madison County, at least some of his injuries occurred in Madison County. During his deposition, McGinty was unable to specifically tie his injuries to any one accident, incident, or other reportable condition that occurred during his Madison County employment. In his 30-year employment history, McGinty worked out of Moberly, Missouri, Wentzville, Missouri, St. Louis, Missouri, and Kansas City, Missouri. The Madison County work took place during the time frame when McGinty worked out of St. Louis, Missouri, and, while not specified, did take place more than 15 years ago. Neither party has any witnesses located in Madison County, or anywhere else in Illinois. All of McGinty's treating physicians or other healthcare providers are located in the Kansas City, Missouri, area. He alleged that the pain and/or physical problems with which he suffered were not present when he worked out of St. Louis, Missouri, but did show up over, approximately, the last 13-year period when he worked out of Kansas City.

Norfolk Southern filed its forum non conveniens motion seeking to have the case dismissed, arguing that the case would be more properly filed in Jackson County, Missouri. The trial court's September 29, 2004, order denying the motion simply states, "The motion is hereby denied." No rationale for the denial was included in the order.

The only issue on appeal is whether or not the trial court erred in reaching its conclusion that allows the case to proceed in Madison County. On appeal from an order granting or denying a motion to dismiss, we must determine whether or not the trial court abused its discretion. Dawdy v. Union Pacific R.R. Co., 207 Ill. 2d 167, 176-77, 797 N.E.2d 687, 696 (2003); Ferguson v. Bill Berger Associates, Inc., 302 Ill. App. 3d 61, 70, 704 N.E.2d 830, 836-37 (1998).

Forum non conveniens is essentially an equitable doctrine. Bland v. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co., 116 Ill. 2d 217, 223, 506 N.E.2d 1291, 1294 (1987). The doctrine presumes that there is more than one appropriate forum relative to jurisdiction and venue. Wieser v. Missouri Pacific R.R. Co., 98 Ill. 2d 359, 364, 456 N.E.2d 98, 100 (1983). The trial court retains discretionary power to decline the exercise of jurisdiction and to direct the lawsuit to an alternative forum that would more appropriately serve the parties' convenience. Washington v. Illinois Power Co., 144 Ill. 2d 395, 399, 581 N.E.2d 644, 645 (1991). The convenience of the parties is at the heart of the doctrine. Hefner v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 276 Ill. App. 3d 1099, 1101, 659 N.E.2d 448, 451 (1995).

The doctrine of forum non conveniens is applicable on both an intrastate basis and an interstate basis. Dawdy, 207 Ill. 2d at 176, 797 N.E.2d at 696. The identical concerns of convenience and fairness apply to both types of forum non conveniens situations.

To determine if the doctrine of forum non conveniens applies, a court must balance private-interest factors affecting the convenience of the litigants and public-interest factors impacting the court's administration. Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508-09, 91 L.Ed. 1055, 1062-63, 67 S.Ct. 839, 843 (1947). The balancing analysis requires an evaluation of the relevant factors in their entirety rather than an emphasis on any single factor. Peile v. Skelgas, Inc., 163 Ill. 2d 323, 336-37, 645 N.E.2d 184, 190 (1994).

Private-interest factors include the "relative ease of access to sources of proof; availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling, and the cost of obtaining attendance of willing, witnesses; possibility of view of premises, if view would be appropriate to the action; and all other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious[,] and inexpensive." Gulf Oil Corp., 330 U.S. at 508, 91 L.Ed. at 1062, 67 S.Ct. at 843. Some of the other private-interest factors taken into consideration include the residence of the plaintiff (Peile, 163 Ill. 2d at 337-38, 645 N.E.2d at 191) and the complexity of the litigation. Mowen v. Illinois Valley Supply Co., 257 Ill. App. 3d 712, 717, 629 N.E.2d 176, 180 (1994).

Public-interest factors include court congestion, an interest in having "localized controversies decided at home," and the burden of jury duty upon local citizens in an unrelated forum. Gulf Oil Corp., 330 U.S. at 509, 91 L.Ed. at 1063, 67 S.Ct. at 843.

In Peile v. Skelgas, Inc., the Illinois Supreme Court restated its position that forum non conveniens remains a viable doctrine, and it reiterated the importance of a flexible consideration of the private- and public-interest factors. Peile, 163 Ill. 2d at 336-37, 645 N.E.2d at 190-91. While the court confirmed that the plaintiff's choice is entitled to substantial deference, the court noted that the right is seriously diminished when the forum selected is not his or her county of residence and where the forum is not the situs of the injury. Peile, 163 Ill. 2d at 337-38, 645 N.E.2d at 191. No single interest factor should be accorded primary or conclusive emphasis. Dawdy, 207 Ill. 2d at 180, 797 N.E.2d at 698 (citing Jones v. Searle Laboratories, 93 Ill. 2d 366, 373, 444 N.E.2d 157, 160 (1982)). Affording major significance to any one of the factors would result in a weakening of the flexibility of the forum non conveniens doctrine. Dawdy, 207 Ill. 2d at 180, 797 N.E.2d at 698 (relying on Bland, 116 Ill. 2d at 227, 506 N.E.2d at 1295 (relying on Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 249-50, 70 L.Ed. 2d 419, 432, 102 S.Ct. 252, 263 (1981))). All of the factors must be weighed in their entirety. Dawdy, 207 Ill. 2d at 175-76, 797 N.E.2d at 695 (relying on Griffith v. Mitsubishi Aircraft International, Inc., 136 Ill. 2d 101, 107-08, 554 N.E.2d 209, 212 (1990)).

"In considering an interstate forum non conveniens motion filed in a suit pending in an Illinois court, the focus is on Illinois's connections with the litigation and whether the applicable public- and private-interest factors favor Illinois or an appropriate forum in another state." (Emphasis omitted.) Skidmore v. Gateway Western Ry. Co., 333 Ill. App. 3d 947, 950, 776 N.E.2d 333, 336 (2002).

In 2002, the Illinois Supreme Court reaffirmed the doctrine of forum non conveniens in First American Bank v. Guerine, 198 Ill. 2d 511, 764 N.E.2d 54 (2002). Rather than weighing each factor in determining whether a case should be dismissed, Guerine, which was an intrastate forum case, required an approach in which the court "evaluate[s] the total circumstances of the case," in order to determine if the defendant has ...

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