Illinois Appellate Court Rules in Forum Non Conveniens Case

√On Nov. 4, 2008, Ulrika Bjorkstam and Joseph Daniel Dray were injured in a plane crash in Mexico City.

On Nov. 3, 2009, the two injured parties filed a lawsuit against MPC Products Corp and Woodward Inc., which manufactured the horizontal stabilizer actuator that the plaintiffs alleged was faulty in the plane in which they were traveling.

MPC and Woodward’s principal place of business was in Illinois. However, the companies moved for a dismissal on the grounds of forum non conveniens, arguing that Harris County, Texas, was the more appropriate forum for this case. Forum non conveniens is Latin term used in the law that pertains to the place that is considered most convenient for the parties, discovery of the facts of the case and the eventual trial. In Illinois, the legal concept of forum non conveniens is discretionary with the judge presiding. The factors of the place of the controversy, the witnesses’ location, the residence of the defendant, the location of the place where a contract was made and other similar issues are weighed by the court if the venue of the case is challenged.

The plaintiffs did not appeal the order making Texas the home for this case. On March 11, 2011, the two plaintiffs filed a second lawsuit. This time in Harris County, Texas (Houston), naming the same defendants and mailing a copy of the petition to the defendants’ lawyers, although the ZIP code listed for the lawyers’ address was incorrect.

On Jan. 31, 2013, a citation was sent to Woodward, but not to MPC notifying them of the Texas petition. On March 1, 2013, Woodward moved to dismiss for want of prosecution claiming that the plaintiffs had chosen not to exercise due diligence in serving Woodward in a timely fashion.

Woodward noted the incorrect ZIP code and that it had never received notice.

On June 21, 2013, the Texas court in Harris County dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice in a one-paragraph order, citing want of prosecution.

Then on June 26, 2013, the two plaintiffs filed yet another lawsuit in Illinois with allegations “mirroring those of the lawsuits plaintiffs had previously filed in Illinois and Texas.” MPC and Woodward again moved to dismiss, arguing the case was dismissed with prejudice and thus was barred by res judicata.

On Nov. 1, 2013, the Circuit Court in Cook County, Ill., held a hearing and granted MPC and Woodward’s motion to dismiss. Bjorkstam and Dray appealed that decision.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the two defendants violated the forum non conveniens order by challenging service of process in Texas. The order insisted that “all defendants . . . must accept service of process from the [receiving court]” as well as that the case could be reinstated if any defendant didn’t abide by the conditions, or if the court in the other forum refuses to accept jurisdiction and the plaintiff refiles within 30 days.

The Illinois Appellate Court found that Texas law determines whether the plaintiff properly served the defendants and that Texas law requires a citation for service of process. MPC was never served the citation, and Woodward was served on Jan. 31, 2013, almost two years after the lawsuit was filed.

The court acknowledged that the result here seems a bit unfair given the fact that the defendants were “fully aware of the pending Texas case . . . [and] may have maintained an informed, deliberate silence with respect to plaintiffs’ service of process.”

Nevertheless, the Illinois Appellate Court concluded that since no valid service was ever effected in Texas, the defendants’ obligations to accept service was never triggered. The court therefore affirmed the trial judge’s decision dismissing the plaintiffs’ complaint.

Ulrika Bjorkstam and Joseph Daniel Dray v. MPC Products Corp and Woodward, Inc., 2014 IL App (1st) 133710 (Nov. 13, 2014).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury cases, automobile accident cases, car accident cases, bicycle accident cases, motorcycle accident cases and nursing home abuse cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Flossmoor, Homewood, Highwood, Round Lake Beach, Arlington Heights, Antioch, Bellwood, Bridgeview, Calumet City, Blue Island, Alsip, Worth, Rosemont, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Markham, Chicago (Wicker Park, Rogers Park, Jefferson Park, Hyde Park, Chinatown, Kenwood, Bronzeville, Eastside), Elmhurst, Elk Grove Village and Winfield, Ill.

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