Denial of Rail Defendant’s Forum Non Conveniens Motion Upheld on Appeal

ILLINOIS — The defendant, BNSF Railway Company (BNSF), made an interlocutory appeal of the trial court’s denial of their forum non conveniens motion, seeking transfer from Cook County, Illinois to Knox County, Illinois, in a matter involving brakeman and locomotive engineer, Randall Alley. Alley alleged that his lung cancer was caused in part by unsafe working conditions at BNSF, where he worked for 40 years. He worked on BNSF trains that departed from train yards in Fort Madison, Iowa and Kansas City, Missouri for 28 years (1974-2002), and that departed from Knox County, Illinois for 12 years (2002-2014).

The plaintiff amended complaint alleged that at all times relevant, BNSF conducted business in Cook County, including ownership, maintenance and operation of rail yards, facilities and offices at Willow Springs, Corwith, Cicero, and 14th Street, all within Cook County. In support of its motion for forum non conveniens, BNSF identified three witnesses with knowledge of Alley’s work, who all averred that travel to Cook County would be inconvenient, and that appearing for trial in Knox County would not. Other percipient, expert, and corporate witnesses were noted to be outside both Cook County and Knox County, or were deceased.

The appellate court reviewed the trial court’s denial of BNSF’s motion on an abuse of discretion standard. They noted that where the plaintiff’s forum is neither their residence, nor the site of the injury, the plaintiff’s choice of forum is entitled to “somewhat less deference.” They determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by finding that it was not inconvenient for BNSF to litigate in a forum in which it does substantial business. They further determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by determining that the ease of access to evidence was a neutral factor in determining an appropriate forum, given the presence of witnesses and information both within and outside the plaintiff’s chosen forum. Finally, they held that there was no abuse of discretion in determining that private and public factors weighed in favor of the plaintiff, given that BNSF was not seeking to move the case to the forum in which the plaintiff did a majority of his work for BNSF.

Read the case decision here.