Stack amenable to tossing non-resident asbestos cases
Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack reminded a group of asbestos lawyers that he's not opposed to dismissing cases with little or no tie to the county.
Stack made his declaration at a Nov. 1 hearing at which Union Carbide asked the county's chief civil judge to transfer an Ohio asbestos claimant's lawsuit to a more suitable venue.
Represented by Robert Shultz of Heyl Royster in Edwardsville, Union Carbide asked Stack to dismiss several asbestos cases based on the doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens (FNC).
Citing the Illinois Supreme Court decision in Dawdy v. Union Pacific, Shultz argued that a plaintiff who engages in forum shopping to suit their individual interests is contrary to the purposes behind venue rules.
In one of the many Madison County cases it is a named defendant, Union Carbide asked Stack to dismiss a suit filed by Mary Roberts, as the administrator of her husband Delbert Roberts' estate.
Shultz argued that Roberts' case has no connection to Madison County or the state of Illinois. He argued that relevant private and public interest factors strongly favor dismissal in favor of an Ohio forum.
He also argued that all of Roberts' medical treatment occurred outside of Madison County and that evidence related to his claims against defendants is located in Ohio, not Illinois, therefore Ohio is the most appropriate and convenient forum for adjudicating this lawsuit.
Citing Gridley v. State Farm., Shultz also argued that just because one or more of the defendants are residents of Illinois is not enough to deny a FNC motion.
Lawyers from the Goldenberg firm in Edwardsville argued Shultz failed to provide facts regarding the private and public interest factors that overwhelmingly favor dismissal.
They also argued that a defendant cannot contend that a forum is inconvenient to a plaintiff when deference is given to plaintiff's choice.
While Stack did not grant Union Carbide's motion, he made it clear that the more cases that go to trial with non residents, the more likely he is to start tossing them.
Stack said the public interest factors in deciding a FNC motion become more relevant when jurors from Madison County start hearing cases that do not belong.
Since taking over the asbestos docket in 2004, there have been five asbestos trials that have resulted in jury verdicts and all of them dealt with residents from other counties. There have been other trials that began, but settled at some point during the trial.
Currently Stack has nearly 1,175 pending asbestos cases.
In October 2004, in one of Stack's first decisions as the presiding asbestos judge, Stack ruled the "astronomical burden" of looming trials demanded he dismiss cases that were not connected directly to Madison County.
Stack told attorneys who represented a Louisiana couple to transfer the case to a courtroom closer to "where the plaintiff claims (asbestos) exposure."
Stack pondered how Madison County would hold up if every asbestos lawsuit filed in its courts did go to trial, suggesting that the "cash cow" asbestos docket would quickly overwhelm local taxpayer resources to the expense of plaintiffs.
"It is not the function of the courts to make money," Stack wrote. "This is not a 'business.' It is the function of the courts to administer justice."
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