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Kujawa v. Hopkins

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

August 5, 2019

REBECCA KUJAWA, Special Administrator of the Estate of John Kujawa, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JOHN HOPKINS and JOHN J. HOPKINS & ASSOCIATES, P.C., Defendants-Appellants.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 17-L-321 Honorable William A. Mudge, Judge, presiding.

          Attorney for Appellants Gary A. Meadows, HeplerBroom, LLC

          Attorney for Appellee David C. Nelson, Nelson & Nelson, P.C.

          JUSTICE CATES delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Overstreet and Justice Moore concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          CATES JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The plaintiff, Rebecca Kujawa, special administrator of the estate of John Kujawa, deceased, filed a legal malpractice complaint in the circuit court of Madison County, against the defendants, John Hopkins and John J. Hopkins & Associates, P.C. The defendants moved to transfer the case to the circuit court of Effingham County under the doctrine of intrastate forum non conveniens. The motion was denied. The defendants filed a petition for leave to appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 306(a)(2) (eff. July 1, 2014). This court granted the petition, and for reasons that follow, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶ 3 This legal malpractice action was brought against the defendants, John Hopkins and John J. Hopkins and Associates, P.C, in the circuit court of Madison County, Illinois. The action arose from the defendants' decisions to voluntarily dismiss the plaintiffs medical negligence action in state court and refile it in federal court, where it was then dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Because a plaintiff is permitted to refile a cause of action only one time after taking a voluntary dismissal, the underlying medical negligence action could not be recommenced. The basic facts are not disputed.

         ¶ 4 In December 2012, John Kujawa underwent knee replacement surgery at St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital (St. Anthony's Hospital) in Effingham, Illinois. The surgery was performed by Dr. Peter Bonutti. Dr. Bonutti resides and practices medicine in Effingham, Illinois. Dr. Jeffrey Jenson provided postoperative medical care during John Kujawa's hospital stay. Dr. Jenson also resides and practices in Effingham, Illinois. On December 8, 2012, John Kujawa was discharged from St. Anthony's Hospital and allowed to return to his home. At that time, John Kujawa and his spouse, Rebecca Kujawa, lived in Ashley, Washington County, Illinois. Upon discharge, John Kujawa was given a prescription for anticoagulant medication because of the risk of blood clots associated with joint replacement surgeries. Tragically, within 10 to 12 hours after being discharged from the hospital, John Kujawa developed a pulmonary embolism and passed away.

         ¶ 5 Rebecca Kujawa engaged defendant Hopkins and his law firm to represent the decedent's estate in a potential medical negligence action against St. Anthony's Hospital and Dr. Jenson. Defendant Hopkins resides and practices law in Madison County. His law firm is also located in Madison County, Illinois.

         ¶ 6 On November 17, 2014, the defendants filed a medical negligence action in the circuit court of Effingham County, on behalf of the estate of John Kujawa and against Dr. Jenson and St. Anthony's Hospital. Rebecca Kujawa had been appointed as the special administrator of the estate. According to the complaint, Dr. Jenson failed to appreciate that, prior to discharge, the decedent's international normalized ratio (INR) rate for blood clotting was at a subtherapeutic level and failed to continue with appropriate medications to restore the INR rate to an appropriate level. The complaint alleged that St. Anthony's Hospital failed to provide the decedent with information concerning his moderate to high risk for deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism and the significance of anticoagulant therapy and failed to appreciate that, prior to discharge, the decedent's INR rate for blood clotting was at a subtherapeutic level.

         ¶ 7 Sometime after filing the medical negligence action, the defendants learned that Rebecca Kujawa had moved from Illinois to Tennessee. In February 2015, the defendants voluntarily dismissed the medical negligence action in Effingham County pursuant to section 2-1009 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1009 (West 2014)). On March 2, 2015, the defendants refiled the action in the United States District Court in East St. Louis, Illinois. On April 7, 2015, the federal court dismissed the action for lack of diversity jurisdiction. The court concluded that there was no diversity of citizenship because the decedent's domicile at the time of death determined that plaintiffs citizenship and all parties to the litigation were citizens of Illinois. On April 23, 2015, the defendants refiled the medical negligence action in Effingham County. The case was dismissed with prejudice because the plaintiff was only entitled to a single refiling of her action after voluntarily dismissing the original action in Effingham County. See Timberlake v. Illini Hospital, 175 Ill.2d 159, 676 N.E.2d 634 (1997).

         ¶ 8 The plaintiff hired new counsel and filed this legal malpractice action against the defendants in the circuit court of Madison County, Illinois. In the second amended complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants breached their standard of care in that they voluntarily dismissed the underlying medical negligence action without a valid reason or a plan to lawfully reinstate the case and subsequently refiled the action in a federal court that lacked jurisdiction, thereby resulting in the dismissal of the federal action and the procedural bar to the refiling of the case in the state court. The plaintiff further alleged that but for the defendants' negligence, she would have prevailed in her medical negligence action. The plaintiff asserted that as a proximate cause of the defendants' negligence, she was forever barred from pursuing just compensation for the wrongful death of the decedent.

         ¶ 9 The defendants filed an answer to the second amended complaint. Therein, the defendants admitted that their conduct fell below the applicable standard of care in refiling the medical negligence action in a federal court that lacked diversity jurisdiction and thereby barred a refiling of plaintiff s medical negligence claim in state court. The defendants, however, did not admit that a jury in Effingham County would have found either St. Anthony's Hospital or Dr. Jenson liable in the underlying medical negligence action.

         ¶ 10 Subsequently, the defendants moved to transfer the legal malpractice action to Effingham County, or alternatively Washington County, on grounds of intrastate forum non conveniens. The defendants claimed that Effingham County was a more convenient forum for the trial of the legal malpractice case because the primary contested issue was whether Dr. Jenson and St. Anthony's Hospital committed medical negligence while treating the decedent in Effingham County. The defendants argued that essential medical witnesses and pertinent records of the decedent's medical treatment occurred in Effingham County. The defendant identified six health care professionals who cared for the decedent and who would likely be called as witnesses. Of those witnesses, three resided in Effingham County, and the others resided in nearby Salem, Sigel, and Teutopolis respectively. The defendants claimed that the ability to secure these medical witnesses was a primary concern. They argued that these witnesses would be required to travel approximately 90 miles for a trial in Madison County and that this would pose an inconvenience for them. The defendants also argued that the task of securing the medical witnesses and scheduling their appearances at trial was complicated by the fact that the defense was precluded from making direct contact with these witnesses under the Petrillo[1] doctrine. The defendants noted that the plaintiff had identified as witnesses two first responders who attempted to revive the decedent and a medical doctor who treated the plaintiff for depression following decedent's death, as well as family and friends. The defendants argued that these witnesses resided in Washington and Marion Counties and would have to travel a similar distance whether the case is tried in Effingham County or Madison County. The defendants asserted that jurors in Effingham County have an interest in deciding whether their local medical providers were negligent and that the ...


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