Appellate Court upholds Cueto's decision to vacate personal injury award

Ann Knef Apr. 26, 2007, 7:00am

Judge Lloyd Cueto

The Illinois Appellate Court has upheld St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Lloyd Cueto's decision to vacate a $458,470.03 personal injury judgment that he himself originally awarded to a plaintiff in a 2005 bench trial.

Two months after Alvin Howard was awarded damages for physical injuries and monetary losses arising in a negligence claim over athletic training services provided Missouri Bone and Joint Center, Cueto on July 22, 2005, vacated the judgment. He declared that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and dismissed the case for a lack of jurisdiction.

"…[W]e have based our decision on personal jurisdiction case law that existed before the complaint in the instant case was filed…," wrote Fifth Appellate Court Justice James Wexstten in delivering the court's opinion.

Howard filed the suit on Jan. 23, 2002.

In March 2002, Missouri Bone and Joint Center filed a motion to dismiss the case for a lack of personal jurisdiction. In support of its motion, the defendant argued that it is a Missouri corporation with its principal place of business and corporate headquarters in Missouri.

The defendant also argued that it had no facilities in Illinois and owned no property in Illinois. It transacted no business in Illinois and was not registered to do business in Illinois.

In response, the plaintiff's attorney filed an affidavit in opposition stating that the defendant maintains an interactive website at that is accessible to persons residing in Illinois.

The plaintiff's attorney stated that the defendant admitted giving a presentation on injury prevention at Sparta High School, located in Sparta, Illinois, on April 5, 2002.

On July 9, 2002, the circuit court denied the defendant's motion to dismiss. The defendant filed a petition for leave to appeal to this court, but the petition was denied.

After Cueto awarded damages to Howard on May 13, 2005, Missouri Bone and Joint Center filed a motion for a rehearing/modification and to vacate the judgment.

It asked the court to reconsider, inter alia, its ruling on personal jurisdiction. The defendant incorporated its previous motion to dismiss and the memorandum in support and directed the court's attention to case law that had been filed subsequent to the original hearing.

"A nonresident defendant can only be subjected to the authority of the forum state if the defendant's conduct and connections with the forum are such that it is reasonably foreseeable that it would be haled into court there," Wexstten wrote in support of the appellate court decision.

"In the instant case, there is no dispute that the plaintiff's suit neither arises from nor relates to his activities within Illinois; hence, the court was limited to exercising general jurisdiction over the out-of-state defendant."

Justices Melissa Chapman and Bruce Stewart concurred. Justices Terrence Hopkins, who died in October 2006, and Stephen McGlynn, who was voted off the bench in November 2006, participated in oral arguments.

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