The Illinois Supreme Court has overturned a Cook County judge and a state appeals court, saying they erred in refusing to grant an Indiana warehousing company’s request to dismiss a Michigan insurer’s lawsuit on grounds the legal action didn’t belong in Cook County.
Justice Anne M. Burke wrote the unanimous opinion filed Sept. 21 in support of Interstate Warehousing Inc., which was sued by Aspen American Insurance Company, of Michigan, over liability for a collapsed roof.
Aspen originally said Interstate owned the warehouse used by its client, New Jersey-based Eastern Fish Company, and should be liable for a March 8, 2014, partial roof collapse and resulting destruction of goods. The collapse resulted in ruptured gas lines and an ammonia leak, contaminating the fish stored in the warehouse. Aspen paid Eastern’s loss claim and acquired rights to sue, then filed its complaint July 14, 2014, in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging breach of contract and negligence.
Burke noted Interstate Warehousing’s letterhead and contract documents — which Aspen included in its evidence submissions — indicate the company’s corporate office is in Fort Wayne, Ind., and that in addition to the Michigan warehouse, it also has storage facilities in Joliet, as well as elsewhere in Indiana, Colorado, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia.
Interstate filed to have the Cook County complaint dismissed because Aspen failed to prove the company has enough connections to Illinois to be sued here. Aspen countered by saying the Joliet warehouse, in operation in Will County since 1988, makes the company subject to general personal jurisdiction in Illinois. The circuit court denied the motion to dismiss and the appellate court confirmed that decision in 2016.
In overturning the lower courts’ findings, the Supreme Court relied on the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Daimler AG v. Bauman, which interpreted the federal constitution’s due process clause by explaining it takes “exceptional” circumstances to render a corporate defendant “essentially at home” in a state other than the location of its headquarters.
“Plaintiff must show that defendant is incorporated or has its principal place of business in Illinois or that defendant’s contacts with Illinois are so substantial as to render this an exceptional case,” Burke wrote. “Plaintiff has failed to make this showing.”
By not disputing the home office in Fort Wayne, the court continued, Aspen essentially concedes Interstate Warehousing is no more at home in Illinois than any of the other states where it has a warehouse. She cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s words in Daimler: “(A) corporation that operates in many places can scarcely be deemed at home in all of them.”
Aspen also argued that registering to do business in Illinois constitutes a company’s consent to the exercise of general jurisdiction, but Burke wrote none of the provisions in state law that mandate registration with the Secretary of State specifically require consent to general jurisdiction.
As a result of its opinion, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the circuit court to enter judgment dismissing Aspen’s complaint.
According to Cook County court records, Aspen was represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Swanson Martin Bell LLP, of Chicago.
Interstate was represented by the firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson, of Chicago.