Stobbs denies forum non conveniens motions in four cases from out of state asbestos claimants

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Jun 3, 2014


Madison County Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs has denied several defendants’ motions to dismiss out of state claimants' asbestos lawsuits, holding that defendants failed to sufficiently argue that Illinois is inconvenient for all parties involved.

Stobbs adopted plaintiff attorneys' arguments that defendants failed to prove how Madison County is inconvenient nor why another forum is significantly more convenient. He denied dozens of defendants' forum non conveniens motions on May 23 in four separate cases filed by attorneys with the Napoli firm. 

Stobbs wrote that the defendants did not dispute that Illinois has jurisdiction over the cases, meaning Madison County is a constitutionally appropriate forum for the actions.

Plaintiff Jack Warden, deceased, who had worked in Utah, alleged he was exposed to asbestos-containing products, causing him to develop lung cancer. Warden died from his illness in March 2013.

Seven of the 25 remaining defendants filed motions to dismiss, arguing Utah was the proper location for litigation.

Plaintiff Wilma Munsey-Hunt, deceased, who had lived in Tennessee, alleged she was exposed to the defendants’ asbestos-containing products through her husband, causing her to develop lung cancer. She died from her injuries in May 2013.

Of the 40 remaining defendants in the case, 11 of them filed motions to dismiss, alleging a court in Tennessee would be the more proper venue.

Both cases were set for trial on Dec. 1, 2014, but were re-set for the April 6, 2015, trial docket.

Plaintiff Robert Glenn Murphy served in the U.S. Navy from 1961 to 1965 in various locations, including Illinois, California and Hawaii.

While in the Navy, Murphy served onboard the USS Epperson DD 719 and the USS John S. McCain DLS as a boiler man 3rd class, where he claims he was exposed to asbestos through his duties.

After leaving the Navy, Murphy lived in Alaska where he worked as an insurance adjustor, a postal worker, a firefighter and a school bus driver. However, he contends that all asbestos exposures occurred while serving in the Navy.

Seven of the 24 remaining defendants moved for dismissal, alleging Alaska is the proper location for litigation.

Plaintiff Norman Brown, deceased, who lived and worked in Texas and Colorado, alleged asbestos exposure while serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1952 through 1972.

After leaving the Air Force, Brown alleged he worked as a systems analysis for El Paso County in El Paso, Texas from 1972 to 1973. The then worked for El Paso Natural Gas Company from 1973 to 1985. He claimed he was exposed to asbestos while installing electrical components, cables and wiring in both positions.

Brown also performed personal automotive work at his home from 1956 to 1985, alleging asbestos exposure from automotive brakes and clutches.

Brown died from his asbestos-related injuries in January 2013.

Of the 20 remaining defendants, 13 filed motions for dismissal, alleging litigation would be more appropriate in the state of Texas.

Stobbs explained that each defendant failed to show that the plaintiffs could have filed their claims against all defendants in their respective states.

The defendants also failed to specify which court in the alternate states would be a more appropriate jurisdiction for the cases, he wrote.

He added that the defendants must prove that there is more than one forum with the power to hear the case in order to prevail.

“[N]ot only must a moving party demonstrate that a plaintiff’s initial forum is inconvenient to the moving party, but they also must demonstrate that another forum is more convenient to all parties involved,” Stobbs wrote.

Therefore, the defendants cannot prevail on their forum non conveniens dismissal request without first successfully showing that another forum would be more inconvenient for the parties, he explained.

“It is the defendants’ burden to satisfy these basic fundamental elements, in order to show that the relevant public and private interest factors overwhelmingly favor dismissal and deferral of the case to another forum,” Stobbs wrote.

Stobbs also stated that because only a select number of the remaining defendants in each case moved for dismissal based on forum non conveniens, the court would still have to try the case with respect to the remaining defendants even if the motions were granted.

“This result defeats the stated purpose of the forum non conveniens rule, which is to ‘unburden’ the court with litigation that could be more conveniently tried in some other forum,” he wrote.

 “Additionally, the defendants’ suggestion that the court dismiss the entire case against all parties, even if they have not joined in the motion to dismiss, is not ‘practical,’ because those defendants who have not filed or joined in the motion cannot be compelled to accept service, waive any available statute of limitations defense or consent to jurisdiction and venue in the proposed alternate forum. This result would not better serve the ends of justice,” he added.

In addition, while it is not necessary for all defendants to join in the motion, those requesting dismissal must present sufficient evidence proving another forum is convenient to all parties, the order explains.

Madison County Circuit Court case numbers 12-L-1065 (Warden), 12-L-1140 (Hunt), 12-L-1141 (Murphy) and 12-L-1392 (Brown)

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