Illinois Appellate Court Finds Railroad’s Headquarters Insufficient On Its Own to Establish Illinois as Proper Forum for Occupational Exposure Lawsuit
- On October 9, 2020
By: Ryan Gillespie
In Hansen v. Illinois Central Railroad Company, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District was called upon to decide whether Cook County, Illinois was the proper forum for an occupational exposure lawsuit filed by a (now-deceased) former railroad employee. The Appellate Court ruled that the railroad’s business operations in Cook County, in and of themselves, were not enough to justify resolving the lawsuit there.
Plaintiff, Albert Hansen, sued his former employer, Illinois Central Railroad Company, pursuant to the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”), for personal injuries arising from alleged occupational exposures to chemicals and other substances. Illinois Central filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds of interstate forum non conveniens, a legal doctrine which allows a court to decline to hear a case if there is another more convenient forum. Illinois Central argued that Black Hawk County, Iowa was the more convenient forum for Hansen’s case because, even though Illinois Central does business in Illinois and has its headquarters there, Hansen lived and worked for Illinois Central in Iowa, not Illinois, and there were no witnesses located in Illinois. The circuit court denied Illinois Central’s motion, but the First District reversed, finding that Black Hawk County was a more appropriate forum than Cook County.
The First District noted that a plaintiff has the right to select a forum for his or her lawsuit, but when the plaintiff is foreign to the chosen forum and the actions giving rise to the lawsuit did not occur there, as was the case in Hansen, the plaintiff’s choice is given less deference. The First District found that the only connections Hansen’s case had to Cook County were that Illinois Central’s headquarters is in Cook County and it does business there, and those were insufficient. Rather, there needed to be additional public and private interest factors that pointed to Illinois and Cook County. The First District concluded Hansen’s case should be decided in Iowa, where Hansen lived and worked, and pointed out that trying his case in Illinois would not only be inconvenient to the parties, but also unfair to Cook County residents who would bear the burden of jury duty and have their resources employed to resolve an Iowa controversy. Most critically, the First District rejected Hansen’s argument that Cook County was a proper forum because Illinois Central has its headquarters there. The First District found that, although the location of a corporate headquarters is relevant to a forum analysis, it is not a dispositive factor where every other consideration points to another forum being more convenient. Accordingly, the court remanded the case to the circuit court to be dismissed on forum non conveniens grounds.
For additional information, or to obtain a copy of the decision, contact Ryan Gillespie at firstname.lastname@example.org.