MOUNT VERNON – Fifth District appellate judges directed Twentieth Circuit Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson to transfer a shopper’s suit against Schnuck Markets from St. Clair County to Monroe County.
In an Aug. 22 opinion, Justice David Overstreet found it reasonable to conclude that plaintiff Angela Shaw engaged in forum shopping to suit her individual interests.
Shaw lives in Monroe County.
“St. Clair County residents should not be burdened with jury duty when the action neither arose there nor has any relation to that county,” Overstreet wrote.
Justices Randy Moore and Mark Boie concurred.
Their statistics show St. Clair County carried 35 times as many civil actions as Monroe County in 2017, with the average case taking four times as long to resolve.
Patrick Hinrichs of St. Louis filed Shaw’s suit in August 2017, claiming cart handler John Doe lost control and caused a line of carts to hit her in 2015.
Schnucks counsel Beth Veath, of Brown and James in Belleville, moved for transfer in September 2017.
Hinrichs responded that St. Clair County had an interest in whether the grocer’s training and policies could protect county citizens.
He argued that courthouses in Waterloo and Belleville were equally convenient, and that Belleville was closer to the grocer’s headquarters in St. Louis. He wrote that Shaw’s treating physician was in St. Clair County, her surgery occurred there, and further that defense counsel was in St. Clair County. He wrote that his own office was closer to St. Clair County.
He also argued that Schnucks provided no statistics to show Monroe County was a more suitable forum.
Last August, he amended the complaint to identify Randolph County resident Matt Haas as the John Doe cart handler.
Haas joined the transfer motion in September.
Veath filed a supplement to the motion, stating that Schnucks trained Haas in Waterloo and that he lived closer to the Monroe County courthouse.
She wrote that Shaw’s primary care provider was in Monroe County.
She wrote that the difference between distances from the grocer’s headquarters to the courthouses was less than a mile.
Gleeson held a hearing, and denied transfer in November.
On appeal, the Fifth District acknowledged Shaw’s right to choose a forum but found that a balance of relevant factors favored transfer.
Overstreet wrote that transfer would better serve the ends of justice as well as the convenience of the parties.
In the absence of a record on court congestion, the Justices looked it up in an annual report of Illinois courts for 2017.
They found 1,528 jury actions pending in St. Clair County with damages exceeding $50,000, and 44 such cases in Monroe County.
They found that the average time between filing and verdict was 57.8 months in St. Clair County and 14.4 months in Monroe County.
“Based on these statistics, the public interest factor of docket congestion strongly favors a trial in Monroe County,” Overstreet wrote.
He wrote that Shaw resides in Monroe County and all conduct in her complaint occurred there including the training, hiring and firing of employees, and that any business transactions of Schnucks in St. Clair County were unrelated to the case and insignificant to the analysis.
He also wrote that testimony of a treating physician is not at the heart of cases that don’t involve malpractice claims.
He found no dispute over the necessity or propriety of Shaw’s treatment.
The Justices visited Google maps and found Haas lived closer to the Monroe County courthouse by 5.4 miles and eight minutes.
They found the grocer’s headquarters 2.7 miles nearer to the St. Clair County courthouse but four minutes farther away.