Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Jan. 30, 2015, 8:32am

Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge has held that Jersey County is a more appropriate jurisdiction for a case alleging a former McDonald’s general manager stole a former employee’s information to write numerous payroll checks and then cashed them.

According to a Jan. 9 order, Mudge granted defendants’ G.M.J. Inc. and CNB Bank & Trust’s motion to transfer saying they met their burden showing the public and private factors strongly favor transfer to Jersey County.

Plaintiff Lora Benson filed her lawsuit on Aug. 22 against G.M.J., CNB Bank and Theresa Bryan, claiming she worked at G.M.J.’s McDonald’s restaurant in Jerseyville from August until September 2011. During that same time period, Bryan worked as the restaurant’s general manager, the suit states.

During her employment, Benson was also receiving social security disability benefits of $1,513 per month, which she had been getting since April of 2000, the complaint states. She claims she relied on the money to pay her food, shelter, clothing and necessary bills.

However, Benson claims she suddenly lost access to the additional monthly funds in October 2012 after Bryan had written numerous payroll checks to her. Bryan then took the checks and cashed them at CNB Bank, the suit states.

It was not until April 2013 that Benson was able to restore her social security benefits, she claims. However, because she never received back pay for the months that her social security benefits were halted, she allegedly lost her home and was turned over to collection agencies.

On March 14, 2013, Bryan pled guilty to theft relating to the checks, the complaint states.

The defendants’ filed a motion to transfer on Sept. 26 based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens. They argue that Benson resides in Greene County and the alleged acts and omissions occurred in Jersey County.

In fact, Bryan was employed at the Jersey County McDonald’s, which is where the payroll checks were issued.

Bryan was criminally charged and convicted for her conduct in Jersey County, meaning that jurisdiction would be more convenient for the identity theft activity, the defendants argue.

“It is argued that since the incident occurred in Jersey County, involving witnesses and a police investigation that are located and occurred there, concerning transactions that took place at businesses located there, that citizens of Madison County have little interest in deciding this controversy as opposed to Jersey County residents,” Mudge explained in his order.

Instead, Jersey County residents would have more interest in deciding the controversy local to them, the defendants claim.

Defendants also argued that Madison County’s civil docket is more congested than Jersey County’s.

Benson, on the other hand, argued that part of her damages are connected to the social security office located in Madison County, according to her Oct. 27 opposition.

She added that CNB Bank does business in Madison County and would not be burdened if the case is litigated here.

Benson also argued that she is a crime victim and the Jersey County authorities were not very helpful.

Mudge concluded that the defendants met their burden in showing that Jersey County is a more appropriate jurisdiction for the action.

He explained that because Benson resides in Greene County, her choice of forum “is afforded less deference than it would enjoy if she resided in Madison County.”

Mudge added that just because she was a crime victim who believes the Jersey County authorities were “less than helpful or sympathetic to her plight” does not mean he is afforded any more deference than what she is entitled to.

Mudge also held that transfer was appropriate because all the acts or omissions alleged in Benson’s complaint occurred in Jersey County.

“Therefore, the relative ease of access to sources of testimonial, documentary and real evidence and the cost to obtain attendance of willing and unwilling witnesses favors Jersey County,” he wrote.

Concluding that Madison County has “little if any connection to the litigation other than the nearest social security office to Greene County” and one of CNB Bank’s 13 locations, Mudge held that transfer is appropriate in the case.

Benson seeks a judgment of more than $500,000, plus costs, attorneys’ fees and other relief the court deems just.

Benson is represented by Tammy J. Julian of Farrell, Hamilton and Julian in Godfrey.

G.M. J. is represented by Daniel Schattnik of Unsell, Schattnik & Phillips in Wood River.

CNB Bank is represented by Barry S. Noeltner and Brett M. Mares of Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen in Edwardsville.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 14-L-1150

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Peoria, IL 61602

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