Appellate court affirms Cueto's venue ruling

Steve Gonzalez Feb. 2, 2005, 6:27am

A venue decision made by St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto was recently affirmed by the 5th District Court of Appeals after the appellate court was ordered by the Illinois Supreme Court to reconsider an interlocutory appeal.

Norfolk Southern had appealed Cueto's refusal to transfer a wrongful death case to Clinton County. The case was filed by Rita Langenhorst in October 2001. Her late husband Gerald Langenhorst was killed July 27, 2001, hours after a Norfolk Southern train struck his truck at a crossing near their Germantown home, tossing him 85 feet.

The appellate court had to decide whether Cueto abused the exercise of his discretion when he refused to transfer the case.

“We only find such an abuse if we conclude that no reasonable person would take the view adopted by Judge Cueto,” writes Appeals Court Justice Clyde Kuehn.

The decision stood out because of its unusually descriptive language.

“In the waning hours of a bright, summer afternoon in 2001, Norfolk Southern lead engine 8812 lugging 118 cars of freight, rumbled across southern Illinois at 45 miles per hour. Shortly before five o’clock it rolled onto the Langenhorst farm," writes Kuehn in the court's decision.

It continues, "Regardless of where it would be told, this lawsuit will speak of human tragedy as the accident led to Gerald Langenhorst’s death."

”Langenhorst has bounced a lifetime of vehicles over crossing 724641H, he crossed it almost every day of his 70-year life upon Mother Earth.”

Kuehn continued, “The last day of that life, Gerald headed home for the supper that Rita prepared for him. It was the Langenhorst family way to gather for early evening suppers, right after the completion of the day’s labors. Rita had prepared meals like it long before the years had retouched the color of her hair.”

Norfolk retained Kurt Reitz of Thompson Coburn of Belleville and in January of 2002, Reitz filed a motion to transfer venue based on forum non conveniens.

Reitz claimed that since almost all the witnesses lived in or around Clinton County and the accident took place there, it would be a more convenient venue. He also argued that it takes approximately three years for a civil case to go to trial due to a heavily congested civil docket in St. Clair County, whereas trial in Clinton County would be more expeditious.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Cueto denied the transfer and after reviewing the case, the appellate court affirmed his ruling stating, “ we cannot say that Judge Cueto was unreasonable in denying a venue transfer to Clinton County, and other reasonable people might well adopt the view that he has taken.

“Given the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Guerine it might well have constituted an abuse of discretion had Judge Cueto decided to transfer the case pursuant to the defendants’ request.”

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