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What Happens in Kane County…Should Not Stay in Cook County

September 2021

By: Robert J. Schwarz

Recently, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District issued an opinion that should prove to be a valuable tool when confronted with a forum shopping plaintiff looking to file suit in a more plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction. In Matthiessen v. Greenwood Motor Lines, Inc., 2021 IL App (1st) 200405-U, the Court established that, despite reports of its death, the doctrine of forum non conveniens is actually alive and well in Illinois.

The doctrine of forum non conveniens is an equitable remedy based on considerations of fundamental fairness and effective judicial administration. The circuit court is given the discretion to decline jurisdiction in cases where another forum with proper jurisdiction and venue would better serve the ends of justice.

In Matthiessen, the plaintiff, a resident of McHenry County, brought a wrongful death suit in Cook County for a motor vehicle accident that had occurred in Kane County. Two of the four defendants resided in Kane County, one defendant lived in McHenry County and one defendant lived in Cook County. None of the alleged acts of negligence occurred in Cook County.

In determining whether to grant or deny a forum non conveniens motion, the court must weigh various private interest factors affecting the convenience of the parties along with the public interest factors affecting the administration of the courts. The defendant bears the burden of proving that the totality of the circumstances strongly favors transfer of the matter to a different forum.

The private interest factors include: (1) the convenience of the parties; (2) the relative ease of access to the evidence; (3) the availability of compulsory process to get unwilling witnesses to court; (4) the cost to obtain attendance of willing witnesses; (5) the possibility of viewing the premises, if appropriate; and (6) all other practical considerations that make a trial easy, expeditious and inexpensive.

The public interest factors include: (1) administrative difficulties flowing from court congestion; (2) the unfairness of burdening citizens in an unrelated forum with jury duty; and (3) the interest in having local controversies decided locally. The court must also determine the deference that should be given to the plaintiff’s choice of forum. Substantial deference is given to the plaintiff’s choice when he chooses his home forum. The selection of a forum that is foreign to the plaintiff is given less deference. Furthermore, the choice of a forum that is not the site of the alleged negligence is also given less deference.

In Matthiessen, the trial court denied the forum non conveniens motion. However, the Appellate Court reversed and gave the plaintiff’s choice of forum minimal deference because he was a resident of McHenry County, not Cook County, and also because none of the allegations of negligence occurred in Cook County. After balancing the public and private factors, the Court found that the factors weighed strongly in favor of a transfer to Kane County and ruled that the circuit court of Cook County abused its discretion when it denied the defendants’ motion to transfer based upon forum non conveniens grounds.

A few takeaways from this decision:

  1. The Court’s discussion of the fifth private interest factor, the possibility of viewing the premises, reiterates how the circuit court should conduct its analysis. This factor should not be decided based upon the necessity of viewing the premises, but rather with the possibility of a view, if appropriate. The Court found that it would be unlikely that a Cook County jury would travel to Kane County to view the scene of the accident. The Court reasoned that a viewing of the scene could be accomplished more expeditiously if the case were tried in Kane County.
  2. In weighing the relevant public interest factors, the Court took note of the administrative difficulties flowing from court congestion and specifically noted the difference between Kane County’s caseload and Cook County’s caseload. The Court found (to no one’s surprise) that Kane County’s docket is less congested than Cook County’s docket. It is quite likely that Cook County judges will be much more responsive to motions that address the differences in caseloads, especially considering the backlog of cases that the Covid pandemic has caused.
  3. The choice of forum can have a significant impact on the value of a case. As such, this decision is welcome to the defense bar as it was becoming increasingly difficult to overcome the deference that Cook County judges were giving the plaintiff’s choice of forum.

  • Chicago Bar Association
  • Workers' Compensation Lawyers Association
  • IRTB
  • DRI - The Voice of the Defense Bar
  • The Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel
  • Illinois Self-Insurers' Association
  • Chicago Bar Association
  • Workers' Compensation Lawyers Association
  • IRTB
  • DRI - The Voice of the Defense Bar
  • The Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel
  • Illinois Self-Insurers' Association
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