Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division
THOMAS PENDERGAST, as Executor of the Estate of LISA RICHTER, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
MEADE ELECTRIC COMPANY, INC., an Illinois Corporation; THORNE ELECTRIC, INC., an Illinois Corporation; ECONOLITE GROUP, INC., a California Corporation, d/b/a Econolite Group Company, Econolite Control Products, Inc., and Econolite; ALEX P. DYCHE, Individually; and OLSSON ROOFING COMPANY, INC., an Illinois Corporation, Defendants-Appellants Metro Transportation Group, Inc., an Illinois Corporation, and Traffic Control Corporation, an Illinois Corporation, Defendants. ROBERT R. LEATHERS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
ALEX P. DYCHE, Individually; OLSSON ROOFING COMPANY, INC., an Illinois Corporation; MEADE ELECTRIC COMPANY, INC., an Illinois Corporation; THORNE ELECTRIC, INC., an Illinois Corporation; and ECONOLITE GROUP, INC., a California Corporation, d/b/a Econolite Group Company, Econolite Control Products, Inc., and Econolite, Defendants-Appellants Traffic Control Corporation, an Illinois Corporation; Metro Transportation Group, Inc., an Illinois Corporation; and Thomas Pendergast, Executor of the Estate of Lisa Richter, Deceased, Defendants.
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Nos. 10 L 4072 and 10 L 4075 Honorable James N. O'Hara, Judge Presiding.
Justices Quinn and Simon concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Following a traffic accident, plaintiff Robert Leathers initially filed a negligence action in the circuit court of Kendall County. Lisa Richter was killed in that accident and plaintiff Thomas Pendergast, as executor of her estate, filed a wrongful death and survival action in the circuit court of Cook County. Leathers then voluntarily dismissed the Kendall County action and refiled his action in Cook County, adding new defendants. Several defendants moved to transfer both actions to Kendall County under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The circuit court of Cook County denied the motion. Defendants now appeal, arguing that the court's decision was an abuse of discretion. They also contend that the court abused its discretion in severing third-party claims against the County of Kendall and transferring them back to the circuit court of Kendall County. For the following reasons, we affirm.
¶ 2 BACKGROUND
¶ 3 Lisa Richter, a resident of Oswego, Kendall County, was driving eastbound on Lewis Street in Oswego, Kendall County, when her car collided with a truck driven by defendant Alex Dyche of Montgomery, Kendall County, allegedly while he was in the course of his employment with defendant Olsson Roofing Company, of neighboring Kane County. Richter was killed instantly and her passenger, plaintiff Robert Leathers, who also lived in Kendall County at the time, was injured. Shortly thereafter, Leathers filed a negligence action in Kendall County against Dyche and Olsson.
¶ 4 Richter's mother initially was appointed as the administrator of her estate, which was probated in Kendall County. About a year after the accident, the probate court granted an emergency motion to substitute Richter's uncle, plaintiff Thomas Pendergast, as the administrator of her estate. The same day, Pendergast, of Tinley Park, Cook County, filed the instant lawsuit on Richter's behalf in Cook County. Pendergast asserted wrongful death and survival claims which pleaded negligence against defendants Meade Electric Company, Thorne Electric, Metro Transportation Group, and Traffic Control Corporation for their allegedly negligent design of the traffic signal system at the intersection where the accident occurred. He also asserted negligence claims against Dyche and Olsson. Additionally, Pendergast asserted products liability claims in negligence and strict liability against defendant Econolite for its allegedly faulty design and manufacture of the traffic signal equipment used at the intersection.
¶ 5 At about the same time, Leathers voluntarily dismissed his complaint in Kendall County and refiled in Cook County. In his new lawsuit, Leathers reasserted his negligence claims against Dyche and Olsson and added claims against Meade, Thorne, Metro Transportation Group, and Traffic Control Corporation. He asserted the same products liability claims against Econolite and Atlantic Scientific, which made component parts for the traffic signals. Additionally, Leathers included a negligence claim against Richter.
¶ 6 Dyche and Olsson then filed motions to transfer both actions to Kendall County pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens. They argued that this litigation has no meaningful connection to Cook County and that Kendall County is a more appropriate venue. Specifically, they argued that Kendall County was more convenient for most of the parties and that witnesses and evidence were located in or near Kendall County. The accident occurred in Kendall County between three Kendall County residents. The two known witnesses to the accident were residents of Kendall County and LaSalle County, which is adjacent to Kendall County. The Oswego fire department responded to the accident and transported Leathers to a Kane County hospital. The Kendall County Coroner investigated Richter's death. The Oswego police department investigated the accident and conducted an accident reconstruction.
¶ 7 Dyche and Olsson argued that although a plaintiff's choice of venue ordinarily is entitled to great weight, less deference is given to that decision when the plaintiff's choice is not the site of the accident or the county in which he resides. Thus, they argued that the accident did not occur in Cook County; that Leathers's choice of venue is not entitled to deference because he does not live in Cook County; and that Pendergast is a nominal plaintiff whose residence is immaterial for determining the appropriate venue. Additionally, they argued that Cook County was not Leathers' first choice of venue and is entitled to less deference.
¶ 8 Dyche and Olsson asserted that of the defendants, Meade has offices in northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, and northwest Indiana; Thorne is located in Carol Stream, Du Page County; Traffic Control Corporation has offices across the Midwest, including its corporate headquarters in Woodridge, Du Page County; and Econolite is a California corporation. They contend that only Metro Transportation has offices in Chicago and Hoffman Estates, Cook County, but the fact that it "merely conduct[s] business" in Cook County "does not affect the forum non conveniens issue."
¶ 9 Moreover, they argued that the public interest considerations weighed in favor of litigating the case in Kendall County. They contend that Kendall County has a strong interest in deciding this dispute, which involves injuries sustained by its residents in an accident occurring within its boundaries, and it would be unfair to burden Cook County and its potential jurors with resolving a case in which it has no interest. Thorne joined Dyche and Olsson's motion.
¶ 10 Meade also filed a motion to transfer. It admitted that its principle place of business is in Cook County and it represented that Traffic Control Corporation "has a place of business in" Cook County. Nevertheless, it argued that the alleged liability in this case arose out of work it performed in Kendall County, making the latter the more appropriate venue. Econolite joined Meade's motion. Neither Metro Transportation Group nor Traffic Control Corporation contested venue.
¶ 11 Leathers and Pendergast filed briefs in response, challenging transfer to Kendall County. They each attached copies of the defendants' forum non conveniens interrogato ...