January 27, 2014 Articles

Illinois Supreme Court's Decision May Effect Application of Forum Non Conveniens

C. Matt Alva

In December of 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court issued an opinion in Fennell v. Illinois Central Railroad Company (Fennell) that many thought could be a game changer on the issue of forum non conveniens in the State of Illinois.  Fennell v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co.,987 N.E.2d 355 (Ill. 2012). The Fennell decision was especially significant for Illinois and Missouri practitioners in light of the national toxic tort and personal injury dockets that have developed in Madison and St. Clair counties. This article examines Fennell and discusses its impact on forum shopping in Illinois.

In 2002, Fennell filed an action under the Federal Employers' Liability Act and the Locomotive Inspection Act against defendant Illinois Central Railroad Company in the circuit court of Jefferson County, Mississippi, claiming exposure to asbestos. This case was ultimately dismissed by the Mississippi court in 2006. Thereafter, in 2009, the plaintiff filed a similar suit in the circuit court of St. Clair County, Illinois. Asbestos exposure was again alleged against the defendant, along with exposure to other toxins. In May of 2010, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss based upon the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The defendant argued that Mississippi was the most appropriate forum based on the fact that the plaintiff lived there and had an extensive history of working and receiving medical treatment there.  The circuit court denied the defendant's motion and a divided appellate panel affirmed that decision. The defendant thereafter appealed to the Supreme Court of Illinois (the Court), which granted leave to hear the case.

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