Google Maps Lead Appellate Court to Reversal
By Eli B. Vine and Kathleen M. Klein
The Illinois Appellate Court has weighed in again on forum non conveniens, in a useful decision it has now decided to publish, rather than leave it languishing as a largely unciteable Rule 23 order. In Monteagudo et al. v. d/b/a Park Place of Belvidere et al., 2023 IL. App (1st) 220045 (Ill. App. Ct. 2023), a nursing home case, the appellate court found that the lower court erred when it kept the case in Cook County and refused to send it back to the county where the defendant nursing home was located.
Plaintiff filed a nursing home case, alleging various actions by the defendant long-term care facility were negligent and resulted in the death of the resident, her father. The nursing home was located in Boone County, and the events at issue happened there, but plaintiff filed the case in Cook County.
The defendants filed a motion to transfer the case to Boone County under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 187 and the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The Circuit Court observed that Plaintiff chose to file the action in Cook County, so it was convenient for her. For Defendant, the long-term care facility’s management company and registered agent were both located in Cook County, so the chosen venue could not be inconvenient for them. The Circuit Court thus denied the motion, based on convenience of the venue for the parties.
Defendants appealed. They contended that the Circuit Court abused its discretion by denying their motion to transfer the case to Boone County because the decision gave undue deference to plaintiff’s choice of forum, despite the fact that the complaint did not include any facts that tied her claims to Cook County, and Plaintiff herself lived there.
The Appellate Court reversed, holding that it was an abuse of discretion to keep the case in Cook County. The Court analyzed each factor of the required and well-established forum non conveniens factor test. It noted that the most substantial factor in giving any county a local interest is the location of the occurrence. Here, the negligence arose at the long-term care facility in Boone County. Further, the Plaintiff’s decedent lived in the nursing home in Boone County, the alleged occurrence took place in Boone County, and the majority of witnesses including decedent’s family members both lived and worked in Boone County. The defendant management company/registered agent simply conducting business in Cook County was not sufficient to support the choice of venue, as the management company did not provide any medical care to decedent, nor did any of its employees have knowledge as to the alleged medical negligence.
The Appellate Court found the public interest factors strongly weighed in favor of Boone County. The convenience of the parties strongly favored Boone County. The Appellate Court rejected the Circuit Court’s conclusion that Cook County had a significant interest in the case based upon the County in which the long-term care facility chose to place its registered agent. Thus, the Court reversed the denial of the forum motion, requiring the case to be sent to Boone County.
Interestingly, the Appellate Court in their opinion took judicial notice of the distance from the long-term care facility to the Boone County Courthouse using, and citing in the opinion, Google Maps. According to the online map service, the distance from the long-term care facility to the Boone County courthouse was 1.8 miles, while the distance from the facility to the Cook County courthouse was approximately 70 miles. The opinion cited Google Maps outright and provided the Google Maps link. The Court also noted the distance from medical witnesses based upon affidavits they submitted.
Learning Point: It is these writers’ experience that some Cook County circuit courts have denied forum non conveniens motions based on defendants’ business in the forum-shopped jurisdiction alone. Thus, a corporation or entity doing business in Cook County, even only tangentially related to downstate business, may open itself to suit in Cook County courts. The Monteagudo decision was originally an unpublished Rule 23 opinion, but its subsequent publication means it may serve as useful precedent in opposition to plaintiffs who seek to forum shop despite a lack of connection to their selected jurisdiction.