Madison County Circuit Judge Lola Maddox has denied a motion to transfer a Jersey County man's proposed class action suit to Jersey County.
Maddox wrote July 10 that she found no exceptional circumstances to apply the doctrine of forum non conveniens on a claim of Thomas Springman against insurer AIG.
She rejected AIG's argument that she should transfer the suit because Madison County Circuit Court is too busy.
"The Courts of Madison County are busy, but there is no reason to believe that when this matter is ready for trial it will not be reached in due course," she wrote.
"A trial Court is deemed to be knowledgeable of its own docket and delays attendant thereto."
Maddox's decision carries special significance because AIG has taken center stage in Madison County's class action drama.
As she signed her order, Circuit Judges Nicholas Byron and Don Weber prepared for pivotal hearings on class action claims against AIG.
Byron has set an Aug. 18 hearing on an AIG motion for summary judgment against Kerry Hanke and a Sept. 15 hearing on Hanke's motion for class certification.
Weber has set an Aug. 29 hearing on a class certification motion of chiropractors Andrew Morningstar and Mark Eavenson in their suit against AIG.
Insurer GEICO had held center stage with its bid to decertify a class action in light of last year's Illinois Supreme Court decision in Avery v. State Farm.
GEICO yielded the stage after Byron decertified the class action.
Springman sued AIG subsidiary Illinois National Insurance in 2003. Attorneys at the Lakin Law Firm claimed AIG improperly reduced payouts to a physician and a physical therapist who treated Springman for injuries from an auto accident.
AIG asked Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis to transfer the suit to Jersey County. Kardis retired last year without ruling on the motion.
Maddox heard arguments on the motion June 2.
AIG attorney Joe Whyte of Edwardsville told Maddox that Springman was a resident of Jersey County and the accident occurred there.
"Mr. Springman testified that this basically boils down to one 75 dollar bill which he alleges was not paid, but he is not sure whether it was paid," he said.
He said Springman received treatment and therapy in Madison County.
"But the fact of the matter is that the lawsuit is not about the medical treatment that he received," he said. "The lawsuit allegedly is about the process of reviewing the bills."
He said adding litigation to already congested dockets created administrative difficulties. He quoted statistics on Madison County case loads.
Richard Burke of the Lakin firm told Maddox that, "As the plaintiff I get to make a decision what the lawsuit is about – not the defendants."
He said AIG decided that Springman's physician and therapist charged more than a reasonable amount for services in their geographic area.
"This lawsuit is about the failure of AIG to pay the man's doctors in Alton and his rehab physical therapist in Alton based upon what they claim – AIG claims – is an unreasonably high charge for medical services in Alton," he said.
Maddox asked if Springman got a bill for the difference. Burke said yes.
Burke said, "It did not matter where the car accident was. The case is about the medical charges."
"You cannot use forum non conveniens as a tool to change the location of the lawsuit as you might under a venue statute," he said.
"We are using equitable power of a court to make a determination of whether or not the factors – quote – strongly favor Jersey County in this case…"
He said the health care providers would be the most important witnesses in the case.
He said Springman was a 20-year pressman for the Alton Telegraph and that Springman has businesses in Alton.
Whyte said the claim was not about failure to pay the providers but about an alleged scheme to defraud Springman.
He said Springman testified that he worked for a family heating and cooling business.
"He is not a pressman," said Whyte.
Whyte told Maddox he received a supplemental briefing the day before. Maddox said the court did not have it.
"Ordinarily when there is a last minute filing like this these guys at the Lakin firm, they at least pick up the phone and tell us it is going to be coming or fax it to us or e-mail it to us…," he said.
Burke replied, "I'll tell you what. I will remove 85 percent of the paper from this file if you will also. This motion is absurd in its size."
Maddox said, "You both really, really, really want to win. That doesn't help me decide the case, Mr. Burke."
Defense attorney Robert Scarborough of Chicago told Burke to withdraw the brief. Burke said he would not do that.
Maddox gave AIG 14 days to file a written response.
She told Burke she could have set the hearing two weeks later to give the defense an opportunity to respond.
"Late filings annoy people and make them angry," she said.
Burke said, "Frankly I didn't get it either."
"Someone else generated it from your firm?" asked Maddox.
Burke said, "It came from our other firm."
Maddox said, "This thing that was filed yesterday was not your work, Mr. Burke? It came from someone else?"
Burke said, "My name is on it. I will stand by it."
Maddox said, "Did you sign it?"
Burke said, "It came from a firm we do these cases with. I am going to stand behind it. Whatever."
Whyte said, "For purposes of getting by today, he is trying to tell you it is all about the physicians."
"When we get to class certification he is going to say no, no, no, your honor, this has nothing to do with those two doctors," said Whyte.
Two weeks later Maddox received AIG's response to the late brief. AIG's argument did not persuade her.
In her July 10 order she wrote, "This Court is unable to conclude that this action has no practical connection to Madison County so as to override the Plaintiff's choice of forum."
"A plaintiff's choice of forum is still entitled to significant deference and will be overridden only in exceptional circumstances…," she wrote.
"Trial of this case would not impose an undue burden on the taxpayers and jurors of this County."