'Long arm' law means Illinois courts can reach even foreign defendants

Amelia Flood Oct. 7, 2010, 7:27am

They say the "long arm of the law" always catches up with criminals, but Illinois' Long-Arm statute means state civil courts' can reach defendants beyond state and international borders.

The statute, which governs when non-resident defendants can be sued in Illinois courts, applies to areas of major civil cases such as asbestos cases, class actions and wrongful death suits.

It also applies to individuals in paternity and marital cases.

Recently, the statute has come into play in one of a series of class actions filed against the makers of the weed-killer atrazine.

Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder denied a motion to dismiss a suit against United Agri-Products, a Delaware-based company that is being sued by lead plaintiff Holiday Shores Sanitary District.

Holiday Shores proposes to lead a class of Illinois water providers against United Agri-Products and other companies claiming atrazine runs off farm fields, spoils drinking water and causes medical problems.

United Agri-Products had asked Crowder to dismiss the suit against it for lack of personal jurisdiction.

Crowder ruled Sept. 29 that the Long-Arm statute applied to the Delaware company because it clearly intended to sell its products in Illinois, one of the requirements for her court to retain jurisdiction over the case.

The statute is frequently cited by both plaintiffs and defendants as they duel over jurisdiction in Madison and St. Clair County courtrooms.

The law sets out at least 15 instances that give an Illinois court jurisdiction over foreign defendants.

Those instances include doing business in a state, owning property in a state, being a resident of a state or have a fiduciary duty to the state.

Some of the more unusual situations accounted for in the Long-Arm statute include having sexual intercourse in the state at the time of a possible conception or committing acts in the state that give rise to a marital separation or divorce.

When ruling on a Long-Arm issue, judges do not take into account liability.

A judge must determine if the defendant meets any of the requirements for jurisdiction as well as the fairness and reasonableness of defending the case in an Illinois court.

The judge only considers a defendants' conduct in the state, not the plaintiffs.

The Long-Arm statute is ILCS 5/2-209.

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