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Introduction to Venue

By Matthew B. Smith

To the uninitiated, the concept of venue can be both frustrating and confusing.  This article explains Illinois venue law and briefly reviews the means by which defendants can seek to transfer a case to a different venue. 

At first blush, the Illinois venue law appears defense-oriented: As a general proposition, cases are required to be filed in places that are convenient to the defendant or to the potential witnesses in a case.  In those circumstances where it can be conclusively proven that the plaintiff has chosen the wrong venue, the court is compelled to transfer the case to a proper venue.  Venue is proper in any county where any properly named defendant resides, or where the transaction giving rise to the cause of action occurred. Illinois corporations are considered residents of any county in which they have an office or are doing business. Note that if venue is proper for even one defendant, it is considered proper for all.  Thus, in malpractice cases involving multiple defendants, the plaintiff oftentimes has a choice of different venues depending on where the defendants reside or conduct business, or where the subject treatment occurred.

In determining where the “transaction” occurred, courts analyze two factors: (1) the nature of the cause of action; and (2) the place where the cause of action came into existence.  The second factor generally refers to the place where the parties engaged in direct adversarial dealings, or where an event occurred that changed the parties legal relationship.  In essence, a transaction must give rise to the litigation in order to justify venue on the grounds that a transaction “took place” in a certain county. 

So what is a defendant to do if a claim is filed in a perceived hostile venue?  There are several options.  First, a defendant can challenge venue if the basic criteria are not met.  Assuming they are, however, the most common means by which defendants seek a new venue is the doctrine of forum non conveniens.  Forum non conveniens is essentially a balancing of private and public factors in determining which venue can best serve the convenience of the parties.  Which is to say, it is essentially a subjective determination by the court that some other venue makes more logical sense given the overall circumstances, even if the chosen venue is technically correct.  Factors courts  consider include the convenience of the parties, the relative ease of access to evidence, and all other practical problems that makes the trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive— including the availability of a compulsory process to secure attendance of unwilling witnesses.  Public interest factors include the interest in deciding localized controversies locally, the unfairness of imposing the expense of a trial and the burden of a jury duty on residents of a county with little connection to the litigation, as well as the administrative difficulties presented by adding further litigation to already congested courts.  Throughout these considerations, the plaintiff’s choice of venue is given deference.  However, the plaintiff’s choice of venue will be given less deference if the plaintiff does not reside in the county in which the case is filed.  Where neither the plaintiff resides in a chosen venue nor any part of the transaction occurred in the chosen venue, courts will more heavily favor the defendants suggested forum.  In those cases, the defendant is not required to show that the plaintiff’s choice of forum is inconvenient.  Rather, a transfer will be allowed where the defendant’s choice is the substantially more appropriate forum. 

Oftentimes, the presence of a “venue defendant” in a case is the only thing connecting it to a particular county.  But what happens then when the “venue defendant” is subsequently terminated from the litigation?  It depends.  Venue can generally only be challenged at the time a case is filed or upon the filing of a motion for forum non conveniens.   However, if the plaintiff later voluntarily dismisses a venue defendant, leaving no other connection to the chosen forum, a challenge to venue may be raised and the case may be transferred to a more appropriate forum.  In such cases, the law presupposes that the dismissed defendant was in the case for the sole purpose of establishing venue.  On the other hand, if the “venue defendant” is involuntarily dismissed (i.e., by way of a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment), the right to challenge venue is not renewed.  Thus, it is conceivable that a plaintiff may include a “venue defendant” through years of litigation, only to mysteriously orchestrate that defendant’s “involuntary” dismissal from the case on the eve of trial.  Under such circumstances, the remaining defendants’ options for challenging venue are limited. 

The venue in which a case is filed can be critical to the successful defense of a malpractice claim.  A judge presiding over a case in the community from which the jury is drawn can have an obvious effect on the direction and outcome of a case.  However, by being aware of actual issues which may arise that impact the proper venue of a claim, and the standards courts apply to address those issues, you can help ensure that any case against you is litigated in the proper, and hopefully, most favorable venue.  

Originally published in the Winter 2010 edition of Quinn Quarterly.