Forum Non Conveniens Motion Denied in Illinois Birth Defect Case – Erwin v. Motorola, Inc.

The Illinois Appellate Court has affirmed a ruling by a Cook County associate judge who denied a forum non conveniens challenge brought by Motorola in Joseph Erwin, Jr., et al. v. Motorola, Inc., No. 1-09-2847. The Illinois birth injury lawsuit involved allegations that the plaintiffs’ children suffered birth defects as a result of their parents’ exposure to hazardous chemicals in the course of their employment in Motorola’s semiconductor industry “clean rooms”.

Motorola’s motion involved a request of a change of venue, citing forum non conveniens rules to support its motion in the birth defect lawsuit. Forum non conveniens is Latin for “inconvenient forum” and are applicable when a lawsuit is filed in a location that is inconvenient for parties or witnesses. Under this principle, a judge is allowed to change a case’s venue if a party can make a substantial case for its inconvenience.

Erwin was filed in a Circuit Court of Cook County court on the basis that Motorola’s headquarters are in Schaumburg, Illinois. However, Motorola argued that a more appropriate venue was Travis County, Texas, on the basis that much of the plaintiffs’ exposure to the hazardous chemicals took place in that county. It submitted a motion to dismiss the birth injury lawsuit on the basis of forum non conveniens, which the circuit court judge denied. Motorola then appealed this decision to the Illinois Appellate Court.

In its appeal, Motorola noted that although it is headquartered in Illinois, none of the workers involved in the birth injury lawsuit ever worked or lived in Illinois. Both parents had worked in a “clean room” at Motorola semiconductor manufacturer facility in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition, the plaintiff’s mother worked in another “clean room” in Motorola’s Austin, Texas plant. The birth injury lawsuit involves claims that both children born to the Motorola employees were born with serious and debilitating birth defects as a result of their parents’ exposure to these hazardous chemicals.

Motorola said that the circuit court had erred in denying its forum non conveniens motion because the court had failed to provide Motorola with the means to compel out-of-state witnesses to testify in Illinois. However, during the forum non conveniens discovery, Motorola did not name a single witness it intended to call at trial.

In a forum non conveniens request, it is the requesting party’s duty to provide evidence for the current venue’s inconvenience; Motorola’s lack of a witness list failed to support its claim that it would be inconvenient to call out-of-state witnesses. Their claim was further undermined by the plaintiff identifying over 50 potential witnesses it would call at the birth injury trail, most of whom reside in Illinois.

In its motion, Motorola also argued that the birth defect lawsuit should be transferred to Texas due to private and public interest factors. It stated that Illinois had no connection to the lawsuit – the plaintiffs did not reside in Illinois, their injuries did not take place in Illinois, and none of the subsequent treatment occurred in Illinois. However, the plaintiffs’ lawsuit contained allegations that since 1993 Motorola repeatedly approved the use of toxic chemicals in its “clean rooms” despite knowledge that those chemicals could inhibit reproductivity.

When considering the issues of public interest, the Illinois Appellate Court stated,

“This is not a local Texas controversy . . . The witnesses in this case are scattered throughout the United States. Plaintiffs were injured in two different states and direct evidence of what transpired in the ‘clean rooms’ where they were allegedly exposed to the hazardous chemicals is equally likely to be located in Arizona as well as Texas.”

Furthermore, the court held that Illinois does have a direct interest in deciding the controversy because its Schaumburg facility has owned and operated its own semiconductor “clean rooms”.

The Illinois Appellate Court said that the trial judge had carefully weighed the private and public interest factors relevant in the forum non conveniens analysis and therefore affirmed the lower court’s denial of Motorola’s motion. The Illinois Appellate Court found that the plaintiffs were entitled to deference in its choice of forum and the records showed that the convenience of the parties did not weigh in favor of transfer to Texas.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois birth defect lawsuits for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding communities, including Lisle, Melrose Park, Alsip, and Schaumburg.

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