Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 2012 L 6987 The Honorable Moira S. Johnson, Judge Presiding.
Presiding Justice Quinn and Justice Simon concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Defendants Lemans Corporation, Moose Racing, Parts Unlimited, and Gibbs Motor Corporation (collectively defendants) appeal from the order of the circuit court denying their motion to transfer plaintiff Jack Taylor's product liability complaint to another county on the grounds of forum non conveniens. On appeal, defendants contend the trial court erred in denying their motion to transfer where (1) it gave undue deference to Taylor's choice of forum; and (2) it incorrectly required defendants to show that each factor considered in the balancing test used to determine forum non conveniens strongly favored a transfer. For the foregoing reasons, we affirm.
¶ 2 JURISDICTION
¶ 3 The trial court's denial of a motion to transfer pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens is the basis for an interlocutory appeal under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 306(a)(2) (eff. Feb. 16, 2011). The trial court denied the motion to transfer on December 7, 2012. Defendants filed their petition for leave to appeal on January 4, 2013. Accordingly, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 306(a)(2) and 306(c)(1) governing interlocutory appeals by permission. Ill. S.Ct. R. 306(a)(2), (c)(1) (eff. Feb. 16, 2011).
¶ 4 BACKGROUND
¶ 5 Taylor is a resident of Lewiston, Illinois, in Fulton County. He owned a motocross-style bike that he purchased in Iowa. On July 9, 2009, in East Peoria, Illinois, he purchased an aluminum rim tire with compliant spokes for the bike. On July 11, 2010, Taylor took his bike to the Sunset Ridge MX MotoCross course (Sunset Ridge) located in Walton, Illinois, in Bureau County. While riding the bike, Taylor performed a jump and upon landing the front tire blew out causing him to fall and suffer an injury. Taylor was taken to a nearby hospital in Princeton, Illinois, in Bureau County, for immediate treatment but the majority of his treatment and care took place in Peoria, Illinois, in Peoria County, with Dr. Piero Capecci of Great Plains Orthopedic. The bike is now located in DuPage County, Illinois.
¶ 6 Nick Spierowki of Farmington, Illinois, and Evan Palmer of Lewiston, Illinois, witnessed the accident. Both cities are located in Fulton County. Josh Pistal of Walnut, Illinois, also witnessed the accident. Walnut is located in Bureau County. Taylor's treating physician immediately after the accident was Dr. Gregg Davis, who practiced at Perry Memorial Hospital in Princeton, Illinois. Princeton is also located in Bureau County.
¶ 7 On June 21, 2012, Taylor filed a defective product complaint in Cook County against defendants alleging strict liability, negligence, and breach of implied warranties. Defendants Lemans Corporation, Moose Racing, and Parts Unlimited are Wisconsin corporations with their principal place of business in Janesville, Wisconsin. Defendant Gibbs Motor Corporation is an Illinois corporation with its principal place of business in Rock Falls, Whiteside County, Illinois.
¶ 8 Defendants filed a motion to transfer venue pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 187 (Ill. S.Ct. R. 187 (eff. Jan. 4, 2013)), on the basis of forum non conveniens. The motion requested a transfer to Bureau County, Illinois. Defendants argued that Bureau County was a more appropriate forum because the accident occurred there and an inspection of the premises would be easier if the case was tried in that County. Also, Taylor was treated by medical personnel and taken to a hospital in Princeton, the Bureau County seat. The expected medical witnesses reside in either Bureau or Peoria Counties. Bureau County is also more convenient for the eyewitnesses, all of whom reside in either Fulton or Bureau County. Furthermore, the residents of Bureau County have a greater interest in, and should bear the costs and responsibilities of, a trial involving an accident that occurred on a motorbike course located in Bureau County. In addition, defendants argued that Bureau County's court docket is substantially less congested than Cook County's docket.
¶ 9 In response, Taylor argued that Cook County was more convenient for defendants and all parties had retained counsel from Cook County. Although Bureau County is a more convenient location for the medical witnesses, access to the medical evidence was easily available regardless of the location of the evidence. Taylor also argued that the site of the accident holds less significance in this case because he is alleging product liability and breach of warranty claims, making a site visit to the motorbike course unnecessary. Furthermore, the accident took place in 2010 and "it is highly unlikely that the dirt course at Sunset Ridge MX is in the same condition [now] as it was at the time of the accident." Moreover, since he is alleging product liability and breach of warranty, placing the burden and costs of a trial on Cook County residents was fair since they have a general interest in resolving a claim involving an allegedly defective product that can be purchased in at least 18 locations throughout Cook County. Taylor also argued that court congestion "is a relatively insignificant factor" and the record does not show that Bureau County would resolve the case more quickly than Cook County.
¶ 10 On December 7, 2012, the trial court denied the motion. The trial court issued a thorough 10-page order in which it acknowledged that deference is given to the plaintiff's choice of forum and therefore if defendants seek a transfer pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens, they must show that relevant private and public interest factors strongly favor their choice of forum.
¶ 11 In evaluating the private interest factors, the trial court noted that Cook County is not Taylor's place of residence, nor is it the location of the accident. It determined that although Taylor's choice of forum will be given less deference as a result, the court will still accord deference to his choice. The trial court also determined that defendants failed to show that Taylor's chosen forum is inconvenient to defendants and another forum is more convenient to all parties. None of the parties are located in defendants' chosen County of Bureau whereas the Wisconsin defendants are approximately the same distance from Cook County (110 miles) as from Bureau County (113 miles). Defendant Gibbs, however, is located only 56.6 miles from the Bureau County courthouse but almost 132 miles from the Richard J. Daley Center in Cook County. The witnesses are scattered among various counties, and defendants did not present affidavits from any witnesses stating that Taylor's chosen forum is inconvenient. The court also noted that Taylor's ...