Cook County Record

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Panel lets dispute between Venezuelan plaintiff and U.K. defendant stay in Cook County

By Jonathan Bilyk | Jan 9, 2015

A Venezuelan woman will be able to use a Cook County court to press her claims against an international psychological professional association based in the United Kingdom.

Identified in court documents as Jane Doe, the woman sued International Psychoanalytical Association in Illinois over claims one of its members improperly divulged her private medical information at an event in Chicago, and later published that information on its website for the world to see.

The London-based association sought to transfer the litigation from Chicago to Venezuela, saying a court there would be a more appropriate venue, but a panel of the First District Appellate Court denied the venue request late last month.

The Dec. 31 decision upholds the ruling of Cook County Circuit Judge Moira S. Johnson, who determined that hearing the case in Chicago would place no greater hardship on the association’s host of English staffers and other witnesses than moving the case to Venezuela or anywhere else in the world outside of England.

The appellate opinion was authored by Justice Robert E. Gordon, with justices Stuart E. Palmer and Jesse Reyes concurring.

“Defendant argues that the parties will endure great expense in litigating the matter in Cook County, Illinois, but does not show the court how that expense will diminish for defendant if the case proceeded in Venezuela,” Gordon wrote.

The case arose years earlier, after the plaintiff, a Venezuelan woman, discovered that information about her particular medical case had been published online by the International Psychoanalytical Association.

The publication of her information occurred after an association conference in May 2009 in Chicago, where a psychoanalyst and member of the association’s board had discussed the Venezuelan woman’s case.

While the woman was never named either in the presentation at the conference or in subsequent publications, she claims people in her home community in Venezuela “could easily identify her," causing her to suffer anguish to the point she was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

She then filed the action in Cook County Circuit Court, citing Chicago as the place at which her private information was first divulged and made available to the association to publish online.

The association asked the court to dismiss the action, citing forum non conveniens and arguing that the case should be transferred to Venezuelan jurisdiction. Venezuelan law, the panel's opinion notes, would not recognize the woman’s cause for action in this case.

After the trial judge refused the motion, the association appealed. The First District panel backed the lower court decision entirely, finding both the public and private interests in the case favored keeping the case in Chicago.

Noting Venezuelan law would not offer recourse to the woman, the justices said the woman’s choice of forum, while in a country different from her own, would withstand the association’s assertions of inconvenience.

And the justices said, while the case involves two parties not residing in either Illinois or the U.S., the allegations should represent a concern to all about with privacy rights.

“These types of cases are not localized because they have international implications concerning a person’s right to privacy on matters disclosed to medical providers,” Gordon wrote for the panel.

The justices also brushed aside concerns of burdening the Cook County court system with a case defendants argued did not even belong in the county’s courts or anywhere else in the U.S.

“Defendants offered no evidence that there is less congestion in Venezuelan courts,” Gordon explained. “They have not even named the specific forum in Venezuela that they believe should handle this case.

He added, "[O]ur supreme court has held that ‘when deciding forum non conveniens issues, the trial court is in the better position to assess the burdens on its own docket.’”

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