Appellate Court delivering favorable opinions for Lakins

Steve Korris Jun. 8, 2007, 12:00am

While Charles Chapman represents the Lakin Law Firm in Madison County, Melissa Chapman delivers decisions in favor of the Lakin firm at the Fifth District appellate court.

Justice Chapman is the daughter of Morris Chapman, a veteran plaintiff's attorney who died in February at age 87. Charles Chapman was a law partner of Morris Chapman, but there is no direct familial relation.

She signed an opinion in April and an order in May denying bids to pull personal injury suits of the Lakin firm out of Madison County.

In one case a trucker from Alabama sued Georgia trailer maker Cottrell Inc., over an accident that happened in Pennsylvania.

In the other case a trucker from Missouri sued Cottrell over an accident that happened in Kentucky.

In each case the Fifth District had reached the same decision in 2005.

Last year the Illinois Supreme Court ordered them to reconsider. They reconsidered but they did not change their minds.

Sharpening the hook that holds Cottrell in Madison County, Chapman wrote that plaintiffs also sued local businesses of the Cassens family.

"…[W]e believe that the Cassens entities are important players in this litigation," Chapman wrote.

She roasted Cottrell for mentioning other Madison County cases in its brief and for implying that plaintiffs can't find their witnesses.

"Cottrell's reference to material outside the record and misstatement of evidence in the record are serious matters – particularly after we struck its initial supplemental brief for the same reason," she wrote.

"We are capable of disregarding statements we find to be improper, and we are capable of reviewing the record to determine whether each party accurately characterizes the record in its brief.

"We order all references to other Cottrell cases filed in Madison County and all statements claiming that the residences of the plaintiff's potential witnesses are unknown stricken from the brief."

In both cases, Justices James Donovan and Bruce Stewart concurred.

The Fifth District filed one decision as an opinion, reliable for precedent.

It filed the other as a Rule 23 order, not reliable for precedent.

Mostly the decisions matched, word for word.

The opinion listed Charles Armbruster III, of the Lakin firm, as first attorney for the plaintiff.

Charles Chapman represents the Lakin firm in a suit against Freed & Weiss of Chicago for control of class actions the firms filed together.

He argued motions for the Lakin firm in that suit on June 1, before Associate Judge Richard Tognarelli.

He has also added his name to Lakin complaints and pleadings as "Charles Chapman Chartered," at the same address as the Lakins.

The opinion listed Brian Wendler of Edwardsville below Armbruster.

Wendler specializes in suing Cottrell on behalf of Teamster truckers.

Karen Kendall and Brad Elward of Peoria represent Cottrell, along with Robert Shultz and Michael Kokal of Edwardsville.

The final name on the defense roster belongs to former U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon of Illinois, now a St. Louis attorney.

In one of the cases before the Fifth District, Raymond Brown of Dexter, Mo., sued Cottrell, General Motors and four Cassens entities in 2002.

Brown claimed he suffered an injury while loading a car onto a trailer in Louisville, Ky.

In the other case, Albert Pilkerton of Alabama, sued Cottrell, Nissan and Cassens entities in 2003.

Pilkerton claimed he suffered an injury while unloading a pickup truck from a trailer in Monroeville, Pa.

In each case, Cottrell moved to dismiss so the plaintiff could sue in a more convenient forum.

Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian denied both motions.

Cottrell appealed, and in 2005 the Fifth District affirmed Matoesian.

Cottrell appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

While the cases awaited action, the Supreme Court tightened the forum law with a decision in Gridley v. State Farm.

The Justices held that a Louisiana resident could not sue in Illinois over a transaction that occurred in Louisiana.

About the same time, however, the Supreme Court denied a forum motion in Langenhorst v. Norfolk Southern Railway.

Norfolk Southern wanted to move the case from St. Clair County to neighboring Clinton County, but the Justices turned the railroad down.

The Justices noted that witnesses were scattered around three states.

Then the Justices ruled that the Fifth District should reconsider the Cottrell cases in light of Gridley and Langenhorst.

Cottrell filed a brief at the Fifth District, arguing that Gridley applied because it involved an interstate forum motion.

Justice Chapman rejected that argument in an April 24 opinion.

"The Supreme Court has previously held that interstate forum motions are governed by the principles applicable to interstate motions," she wrote.

"Nearly all of the potential Missouri witnesses live in the St. Louis area…"

"Indeed, it appears that Madison County is the most convenient forum for nearly all of these witnesses," she wrote.

"Madison County is the headquarters of the various Cassens defendants and of Cassens Transport, the nonparty employer of the injured driver, Raymond Brown.

"It is believed that the Illinois-registered trailer at issue was leased by one of the Cassens defendants.

She wrote that public interest favored transfer to Brown's courthouse in Missouri, "but not to such a great extent to require a transfer."

On May 17 Chapman signed an order in Pilkerton's favor.

"…[T]he instant controversy involves an out-of-state plaintiff and an accident that occurred in Pennsylvania."

"Thus, the controversy is not one that is particularly local to Madison County or to Illinois.

"What this argument overlooks, however, is that the controversy is not one that is particularly local to any one place.

"This is a product liability action involving a trailer that moves in interstate commerce."

"Both this court and the Supreme Court have found such claims to be ones that are not inherently local in flavor.

"Where witnesses are scattered and there is no predominant connection to any one forum, it is an abuse of discretion to grant a forum motion.

"While we do not believe that the Pilkertons should be allowed to 'stack the deck' in favor of their chosen forum by listing a staggering number of witnesses who 'may have' generalized knowledge relating to the case, we also do not believe that we should completely disregard their witness list, either.

"It appears that the Pilkertons will call at least some witnesses who live in or near Madison County…"

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