Fifth reverses Stack in Missouri Home Depot case

Rachel Weinhaus Jun. 28, 2007, 4:30am



The Fifth District Appellate Court reversed Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack in a case which would have allowed a Missouri statutory law to have been tried in an Illinois state court.

Attorneys for a Missouri-based Home Depot store argued in its motion to dismiss a Madison County class action that since the plaintiff chose to shop in Missouri, then it should not be too inconvenient for her to litigate there.

But plaintiff's attorney argued that the motion to dismiss was "untimely" since over four years had passed since the commencement of the suit.

Justice Stephen Spomer, writing the opinion of the court, stated that the motion was not untimely since the amendment to the complaint, including the Missouri law, was added in January of this year; therefore, the defense would not have had a chance to move for dismissal on the basis of improper venue until that time.

In 2002, Gail Renshaw of the Lakin Law Firm filed the suit for Madison County resident Janet Chochorowski and proposed a class action under the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act.

However, in 2005 the Illinois Supreme Court declared the Act only applied the consumer transaction in Illinois. The Lakin Firm then amended Chochorowski's complaint to include the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, and stated before Judge Stack in 2005, "The Missouri Act is the same thing as the Illinois Act."

The Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, if applied, allows courts punitive damages split equally between the plaintiff and the state of Missouri.

Home Depot attorneys argued that any person bringing a claim under the Missouri act would have to bring such a claim to a Missouri court.

Renshaw disagreed, saying the wording of the statute is permissive since it states that any person "may" bring a claim in Missouri court.

Spomer again concluded that the Lakin Firm was wrong.

"'May' applies only to a person's right to file a private civil action, a right that would not otherwise exist," Spomer wrote.

Renshaw had also argued that venue is procedural and therefore, if there is a conflict of law then the local forum's rules should be adopted.

Spomer, however, determined that the Lakin firm misunderstood the law since the Illinois Supreme Court decision in the case the firm was citing stated that "courts cannot generally interfere with the legislature's province in determining whether venue is proper."

Spomer held that while an Illinois court may apply its general venue statute to cases in which another state's law will provide the rule of decision, when a venue requirement is incorporated into a statute that creates another cause of action, that requirement constitutes an integral part of the substantive right created by the statute; therefore, Illinois courts may not use the general venue law to circumvent the venue limitation of another state's statute.

Spomer was not persuaded that there would be any additional burden for plaintiff to litigate in Missouri nor that treatment of venue provision in another state's statute should be treated any differently than a venue provision provided in an Illinois statute.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Donovan wrote that he would have reached the same conclusion on the basis of forum non conveniens, which Home Depot had initially argued in its briefs, but eventually began arguing improper venue.

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