Steve Korris Dec. 5, 2013, 7:21am



Circuit Judge Vincent Lopinot must decide whether a year old Illinois Supreme Court decision allows St. Clair County to operate a national asbestos court.

Since last Dec. 28, when the Justices ruled that a St. Clair County case belonged in Mississippi, defendants have filed at least 100 motions for a more convenient forum.

Lopinot hasn’t ruled on the motions, nor has he resolved forum motions already pending a year ago on other precedents.

At the moment he cannot rule on them because plaintiff lawyer Randy Gori of Edwardsville hasn’t responded to the motions, nor has any defendant tried to enforce a response.

Lopinot presides over about 80 asbestos cases in St. Clair County, a mere fraction of the thousands of cases pending in neighboring Madison County.

Gori, one of the top asbestos litigators in Madison County, filed 31 last year in St. Clair County, and had filed 13 this year through Dec. 4.

Lopinot has set himself a sort of decision deadline by scheduling an April 21 trial for the estate of William Pfingsten.

He can’t hold trial until he resolves 13 forum motions pending in the case.

Like most asbestos lawsuits, the plaintiff names dozens of defendant companies.

Gori apparently triggered a rush of motions this spring, by amending his complaint.

Eight defendants filed forum motions in a single day, in June.

Parsons Government Services pleaded in September that it can’t determine a proper forum because the estate hasn’t answered interrogatories. Parsons pleaded that from the complaint, it presumed St. Louis would be proper.

Lever Brothers argued more generally for Missouri.

The last time Lopinot set a trial date, no trial came to pass.

He set two cases for trial Oct. 21, but Gori moved to continue them on Oct. 4.

Gori wrote that additional discovery was needed.

Fifteen defendants had filed forum motions against Robert Gibson of Tennessee, and five had filed motions against the estate of Steven League of Washington state.

In both cases, defendants disagreed about a proper forum.

General Electric proposed Kentucky for Gibson, and McCord Corporation pitched for Davidson County, Tennessee.

Goodyear recommended King County, Washington, for League’s estate, and Superior Boiler Works picked nearby Klickitat County.

Fewer than half of Gori’s complaints provide a plaintiff’s residence, not even by state, and some don’t identify the locations of jobs.

Defendants often file short motions stating they lack information about a proper forum, and they reserve the right to supplement the motions as they learn more.

This February, a year after Robert Drzymala sued DAP Inc. and others, DAP filed a motion advising Lopinot that Drzymala lived in New York all his life.

The forum motions often cite last year’s Supreme Court decision in CSX v. Fennell, which granted a forum motion that former circuit judge Lloyd Cueto denied.

Justice Charles Freeman wrote that Fennell didn’t reside in Illinois and the cause of action did not arise in Illinois.

“Indeed, almost no one connected with plaintiff’s side of the case resides in Illinois,” he wrote.

Freeman wrote that 13 or 14 potential witnesses resided in Mississippi.

“If Illinois had any relevant or practical connection with this litigation, then it would have an interest in providing a forum,” Freeman wrote.

“However, plaintiff resides in Mississippi, works in Mississippi, and was allegedly exposed to asbestos in Mississippi or Louisiana.

“Illinois’s only connection with this lawsuit is the offices of the parties’ counsel, accessible and transportable documents in the possession of defendant’s counsel, and a compensated expert witness for plaintiff.

“This does not provide a significant factual connection with the instant case to justify imposition of the burdens of the litigation upon the citizens and court system of St. Clair County and Illinois.

“Rather, this dispute has significant connections to Mississippi, and residents of that state would certainly have an interest in having this localized controversy decided at home.”

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