St. Clair County another national asbestos docket? Appellate court is deciding

Steve Korris Feb. 3, 2011, 7:10am



MOUNT VERNON – Fifth District appellate justices must decide whether St. Clair County can act as a national magnet for mesothelioma suits like Madison County.

Defendants challenge orders from former Circuit Judge Patrick Young, who accepted cases from Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania a day before he retired last December.

If Fifth District justices affirm Young, Associate Judge Andrew Gleeson will preside over all four suits.

Chief Judge John Baricevic assigned all Young's cases to Gleeson.

Judy Cates and David Cates of Swansea filed the suits last February, in association with Edward Kionka of Carbondale and Chicago lawyers John Cooney and Kevin Conway.

Each suit named dozens of defendants.

David Cates submitted declarations placing the headquarters, manufacturing plants and testing centers of some defendants in Illinois.

Defendants in all four cases moved to dismiss in favor of more convenient courts.

After a hearing in October, Young asked both sides to propose orders.

On Nov. 23, he adopted the plaintiff's proposal verbatim.

He wrote that defendants didn't contradict Cates's declarations.

In the case of Mary Van Slyke, widow of George Van Slyke, he wrote that the alleged tort occurred when decisions were made to include asbestos in a product.

He wrote that locations of the decisions were most likely headquarters, manufacturing plants or testing centers.

"The mere fact that Mr. Van Slyke was exposed to asbestos in Indiana does not mean that Indiana has a stronger interest in this litigation," he wrote.

He wrote that "there can be little doubt that many of the decisions allegedly made would have occurred in Illinois."

He wrote that "this is not a localized case with a need for just local sources of evidence, but rather has national implications."

"Local county residents here, indeed, residents of the state of Illinois, have an interest in resolving the matter of liability for companies, including Illinois corporations, who
allegedly sold defective products in their state," Young wrote.

He signed similar orders for Lila Renken of Missouri, Sandra Barutha of Wisconsin, and John Phillips of Pennsylvania, all representing estates of late spouses.

Dozens of defendants appealed each order, with a different lawyer in each appeal.

Kurt Reitz of Belleville wrote that Van Slyke's suit arose from an effort by Cook County attorneys to set up a new asbestos docket.

He wrote that no relevant part of Van Slyke's claim occurred in St. Clair County.

Candice Kusmer of Swansea wrote that the Barutha order was "replete with errors, omissions, inconsistencies and egregious

"Regrettably, the case before this court illustrates that trial judges in St. Clair County all too willingly acquiesce in plaintiffs' counsel's blatant forum shopping," Kusmer wrote.

Robert Shultz of Edwardsville wrote that counsel for Phillips opened a new front, "to solicit still more out of state asbestos cases for adjudication in Illinois."

"Plaintiffs' counsel have prevailed upon certain circuit courts to entertain scores of litigants from far flung places whose claims have no practical connection to Illinois," Shultz wrote.

Edward MacCambridge of Chicago wrote that Renken "certainly cannot expect this court to believe that she chose St. Clair County, Illinois for its convenience."

He wrote that she filed 250 miles from home, "to probe St. Clair County, to see whether its courts will tolerate an asbestos lawsuit with no valid connection to this state."

He wrote that the suit sent a message nationwide that St. Clair County imposes no restraint on forum.

"There are no facts in the record to support an assertion that defendants made decisions in Illinois that gave rise to this litigation or that sources of evidence are located in the state of Illinois," McCambridge wrote.

"The trial court bases this entire argument on mere guesswork," he wrote.

In January, Fifth District justices extended a deadline for responses to Feb. 11.

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