Circuit Judge George Moran
A recent Illinois Supreme Court decision that slammed forum shopping is reverberating in Madison County.
Eleven days after the high court tossed a Louisiana man's class action case because it was filed in the wrong forum, Madison County Circuit Judge George Moran cited "Gridley" as he transferred a case against Pfizer to Cook County--even though some of the plaintiffs are from the Metro-East.
Ricky Lott of Madison, Gerald Sumner of Belleville, Sandy Becker of Pontoon Beach and Mike Baldwin of Smithton filed suit Feb. 18 in Madison County against the New York drug maker, demanding refunds for money spent on arthritis pain relievers Celebrex and Bextra.
Robert Shultz of Heyl Royster, Voelker & Allen in Edwardsville, who represents Pfizer, wrote in a motion to transfer that Pfizer is a resident of Cook County--for venue purposes.
Representing the plaintiffs, Aaron Ziegler and Stephen Tillery of Korein Tillery, claim that Pfizer waited too long to object to venue.
“When venue is improper the defendant must file its venue objection on or before it is required to appear or it is waived," Ziegler wrote. "Pfizer waited until its third motion in this case, 118 days after service to object to venue.”
In an order dated Nov. 28, Moran disagreed.
“Our Supreme Court in Gridley v. State Farm makes it apparent that this case must be transferred from this court, venue is not proper in Madison County,” he wrote.
In an exhibit on behalf of Pfizer, Susan Grant--an assistant secretary for Pfizer--stated that Pfizer did not own, lease or operate any offices or facilities in Madison County and never developed, formulated, manufactured or produced Celebrex or Bextra in Madison County.
Pfizer’s senior manager stated that direct sales of Pfizer products in 2004 to all outlets including pharmacies was approximately $27,300 while nationwide sales were approximately $25.96 billion which yielded a percentage of Madison County sales to nationwide sales of .000104 percent.
Shultz claims that Pfizer is incorporated under the laws of Delaware with its principal place of business in New York and that Pfizer’s registered agent in Illinois is in Cook County.
“Plaintiffs make no attempt to plead any facts with regard to venue in Madison County, nor do they allege that Pfizer dealt directly with them in Madison County,” Shultz wrote.
“Plaintiffs cannot meet their burden of proving that venue is proper in Madison County and under Illinois law, when an action is commenced in the wrong venue, the cause shall be transferred to the court in a proper venue.”
Shultz also noted that Moran transferred a similar case against Merck & Co. to Cook County earlier in the year.
In the complaint, plaintiffs say the drugs increased their risk of having a heart attack, while proving no more effective than aspirin or ibuprofen at treating inflammation or pain.
Known as "Cox-2 inhibitors" Celebrex and Bextra, like Merck's Vioxx, are widely used to treat arthritis and muscle pain.
“By virtue of their misrepresentations and concealment of the true extent of health hazards of Celebrex and Bextra, Pfizer was able to charge prices for the drugs that were far in excess of the fair market value that the drugs would have had,” the complaint states.
On Nov. 17, in a 6-0 decision, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed lower court rulings and remanded Gridley v. State Farm Insurance back to Madison County with directions to dismiss the complaint based on forum non conveniens.
"We find that the circuit court abused its discretion in denying State Farm's motion to dismiss based upon forum non conveniens," wrote Chief Justice Robert Thomas.
Christopher Gridley, of Louisiana, filed a class action complaint in Madison County on June 19, 2000, on behalf of himself and a proposed nationwide class against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. Gridley's complaint alleged unjust enrichment and violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act in connection with State Farm's sale of salvage vehicles.
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