Proposed House Bill 5044, which is currently in committee in the Illinois General Assembly, seeks to amend the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure to expressly abolish the doctrine of intrastate forum non conveniens, a development that would further solidify Illinois as a prime venue for plaintiffs seeking a friendly forum.
Though the doctrine is rarely employed, forum non conveniens allows an Illinois trial court to decline to exercise jurisdiction in a case where fairness and justice dictate that another forum would serve as more appropriate venue. Intrastate forum non conveniens allows an Illinois court to transfer an action properly filed in Illinois from one forum (typically a county) to another if doing so promotes the interest of justice. This discretion afforded Illinois courts provides a particularly valuable protection for defendants against plaintiffs forum shopping within the state.
Currently, 735 ILCS 5/2-108 allows for transfer of venue, as both Illinois law and state courts have held that intrastate forum non conveniens is recognized under Illinois law. HB 5044 would alter that statute to read that actions will go to trial in the county in which they are filed unless a statute specifically requires transfer to a different county.
Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville) of the 113th District proposed HB 5044. His district includes portions of Madison and St. Clair counties, two of the largest asbestos dockets in the United States. If passed, HB 5044 would likely increase asbestos filings in those jurisdictions as well as in Cook County (all three committee members considering the bill represent districts that include portions of Cook County).
If HB 5044 becomes law, Defendants in asbestos-related lawsuits in these Illinois venues would find their already limited ability to protect themselves from forum shopping all but eliminated.
managing Partner Joe Hargraves of The Cook Group's St. Louis office will continue to monitor these developments in Illinois, and you can contact him at email@example.com with any questions.