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Wasserman v. Kobit

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

January 22, 2014

JOSHUA D. WASSERMAN and ASHLEY WASSERMAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
HANNAH C. KOBIT and ROSS MEADE, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN W. DARRAH, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Joshua Wasserman ("Joshua") and Ashley Wasserman ("Ashley") filed suit against Defendants Hannah Kobit and Ross Meade on December 17, 2012, and filed an Amended Complaint on December 28, 2012. In the Amended Complaint, Joshua asserts a claim of negligence, and Ashley asserts a claim of loss of consortium. Now, Defendants move to dismiss the case on the basis of forum non conveniens. Defendants also filed a motion to determine the applicable substantive law of the case. These motions have been fully briefed. For the reasons provided below, the substantive law to be applied is German law; and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted on the basis of forum non conveniens.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from the Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs are individuals and citizens of the State of Kansas. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2.) Kobit is a citizen of the State of Illinois, and Meade is a citizen of the State of Maryland. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3-4.) Accordingly, there is diversity of citizenship, and the amount of controversy exceeds $75, 000.00; jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

On January 11, 2011, Joshua Wasserman was a passenger in a motor vehicle owned by Meade and being driven by Kobit. ( Id. ¶ 7.) Kobit was an agent of Meade, the owner of the vehicle. ( Id. ¶ 8.) Meade was sitting in the front passenger seat of the vehicle, and Nicholas Donovan, who is not a party here, was also a passenger in the vehicle.[1] (Pls.' Resp. to Choice of Law Mot. at 1.) Plaintiffs allege Kobit was negligent in operating the vehicle and that as a result of her negligence, Kobit lost control of the vehicle while attempting to exit at the intersection of B19 and B303 in Geldersheim, Germany, causing the vehicle to go off the road into a ditch, through a culvert, over a yield sign, out of the ditch, and through two medians. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10.) As a result of this car wreck, Joshua has suffered severe, permanent disabling injuries. ( Id. ¶ 11.) Joshua suffered spine and rib fractures, multiple spinal injuries, loss of consciousness, traumatic brain injury, post-concussion syndrome, balance problems, and dizziness. ( Id. ¶ 12.)

At the time Joshua was injured, he was a member of the Military Police in the United States Army; thereafter, he was deemed physically unfit for duty and is being medically discharged from the Army. ( Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) Joshua asserts that as a result of Kobit's negligence, he and his wife, Ashley, will suffer medical charges, loss of income and benefits, pain, suffering, and disability, among other damages. ( Id. ¶ 15.) Ashley also brings this action for loss of consortium. ( Id. ¶ 19.)

Now, Defendants assert that German substantive law applies to this case, and moreover, move for dismissal under the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

LEGAL STANDARD

Choice-of-Law

A federal court sitting in diversity applies the forum state's choice-of-law rules to determine the applicable substantive law. Federal Ins. Co. v. J.K. Mfg. Co., 933 F.Supp.2d 1065, 1070 (N.D.Ill. 2013). "Courts do not worry about conflict of laws unless the parties disagree on which state's law applies." Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Websolv Computing, Inc., 580 F.3d 543, 547 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Wood v. Mid-Valley Inc., 942 F.2d 425, 427 (7th Cir.1991)).

Accordingly, Illinois's choice-of-law principles govern this case. Tanner v. Jupiter Realty Corp., 433 F.3d 913, 915 (7th Cir. 2006). Illinois courts "apply the most significant contacts' test from the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, which involves balancing a number of factors, including the place where the injury occurred; the place where the conduct causing the injury occurred; the domicile or place of business of each party; and the place where the relationship between the parties is centered." Ennenga v. Starns, 677 F.3d 766, 774 (7th Cir. 2012). The most significant contacts test "usually guides Illinois courts to apply the law of the place of injury.... when deciding tort cases." Olivares v. Charan Motel, Inc., 28 Fed.App'x 542, 544 (7th Cir. 2002) (citing Vickrey v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., 497 N.E.2d 814, 816 (Ill.App.Ct. 1986)).

Forum Non Conveniens

"The common law doctrine of forum non conveniens allows a trial court to dismiss a suit over which it would normally have jurisdiction if it best serves the convenience of the parties and the ends of justice." In re Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 420 F.3d 702, 703 (7th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). In determining if a dismissal under the doctrine of forum non conveniens is appropriate, the court is directed to consider the private interests of the parties and the public interests of the alternative fora. Stroitelstvo Bulgaria Ltd. v. Bulgarian-American Enterprise Fund, 589 F.3d 417, 424 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Kamel v. Hill-Rom Co., Inc., 108 F.3d 799, 803 (7th Cir. 1997)). The United States Supreme Court identified these factors in the Gulf Oil case, and they are as follows:

The private interest factors that a court may consider 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 ...

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