This past year, businesses across the country redefined the way business is conducted as many employees moved from corporate offices to home offices, kitchen tables, or family rooms. It is likely many conversations took place after this shift about liability and security threats for telecommuters, but court venue in a pending litigation probably did not top the list. The Supreme Court of Illinois, however, has made this topic relevant.
In 2016 a negligence action was filed in Cook County against a Missouri corporation whose principle office and registered agent were in Illinois, along with an employee of the company who caused the accident which occurred in Ohio. The defendants argued the choice of venue was improper because neither defendant resided nor conducted business in Cook County. In Illinois, venue is chosen based on the county where the defendant resides or the county in which the cause of action took place. Corporations are considered residents of a county where they have a principle office, other office, or conduct business.
Limited discovery revealed that the company, GML, hired an employee to service prominent Illinois customers out of his home office in Cook County. GML did not reimburse for utilities, nor did the company pay for any expenses to maintain the office space, however the employee was hired because of his location to headquarters of major customers. Plaintiff argued that this was enough to satisfy the other office requirement. The issue was argued and appealed up to the Supreme Court of Illinois where they ruled that the employee’s home in this specific case did not meet the standards set by the Illinois venue statute stating, “the phrase other office includes any fixed location purposely selected to carry on an activity in furtherance of the corporation’s business activities.”
The Illinois Supreme Court did lay the foundation for future venue cases with Justice Kilbride writing separately that whether an employee’s home office meets criteria to be an, “other office,” will depend on specific facts in the case. Companies with employees conducting business at home as required by terms of hire or government issued orders could face a venue challenge if an action is brought against them. Alternatively, an individual filing an action or complaint against an entity may be able to choose venue based on the location of remote employees.
You can read more about the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision here.