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January 10th, 2013

Illinois High Court Limits Forum Shopping with Case from Former Judicial Hellhole

Shortly before the New Year, the Illinois Supreme Court announced a long-awaited decision that may appropriately serve to limit forum shopping somewhat in a state full of Judicial Hellholes notorious for the practice.

The high court decision in Fennell v. Illinois Central Railroad Company stems from the mishandling of a case by a lower court in the former Judicial Hellholes jurisdiction of St. Clair County.  There in 2009, a Mississppi man who’d already had his asbestos lawsuit dismissed in his home state where he’d lived and worked for decades filed his case again with the help of local Illinois lawyers.

As reported by the Madison-St. Clair Record, now retired but once infamously plaintiff-friendly Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto denied the defendant’s motion for forum non conveniens.

But the high court’s 5-1 majority finally overturned Judge Cueto: “Without belaboring the point, the circuit court failed to recognize several private and public interest factors in its [forum non conveniens] analysis.  Accordingly, we remind our trial courts to include all of the relevant private and public interest factors in their analyses.”  Such factors in Fennell “strongly favor dismissal in favor of a Mississippi forum.”

When witnesses, records, and the alleged exposure to asbestos are largely located or occurred outside St. Clair County (and outside all of Illinois), it’s abundantly clear to anyone with common sense that the lawsuit was filed there for one reason: the plaintiff’s attorneys assumed they’d have an advantage there.

But to it’s credit, the Supreme Court majority made clear that courts shouldn’t favor forum shopping, and that St. Clair County taxpayers should not be obligated to foot the bill for a trial that should occur in Mississippi, if it should occur at all.  The lone dissenter, not surprisingly, was Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride who, apparently, would prefer to encourage the forum shopping that has contributed significantly to the Judicial Hellholes reputations of so many Illinois courts.

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