Russell v. SNFAAnnotate this Case
In 2003, Russell, the sole occupant and pilot of an Agusta 109C helicopter, died after his helicopter crashed in Illinois. Russell, a resident of Georgia, was living in Illinois and working for an Illinois air ambulance service operating in the Chicago area. The helicopter was manufactured in Italy in 1989. The trial court dismissed claims against SNFA, a French company that manufactured a custom tail-rotor bearing for the helicopter, for lack of jurisdiction. The appellate court reversed and the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, noting that Agusta and its American subsidiary, AAC, effectively operated as an American distributor for the tail-rotor bearings in the U.S. market and that SNFA custom manufactured the bearings at issue specifically for Agusta. By engaging a business entity located in Illinois, SNFA undoubtedly benefitted from Illinois’ system of laws, infrastructure, and business climate and has the requisite minimum contacts with Illinois for purposes of specific personal jurisdiction. The exercise of jurisdiction is reasonable; Illinois has an indisputable interest in resolving litigation stemming from a fatal Illinois helicopter accident.
In 2003, there was a fatal helicopter crash involving an air ambulance operating in the Chicago area. The pilot, the decedent here, was living and working in Illinois as an employee of Air Angels, Inc. In an attempt to recover for his death, suit was brought in the circuit court of Cook County against a number of different entities, including defendant SNFA, which is a French company. SNFA had manufactured a custom tail-rotor bearing for the helicopter. The circuit court dismissed the suit against this defendant for lack of specific personal jurisdiction, but the appellate court held otherwise, as did the Illinois Supreme Court in this decision.
The helicopter was manufactured in 1989 by an Italian company named Agusta. After that it had multiple owners and operators. There is no dispute that, when it crashed in 2003, it contained tail-rotor bearings custom made in France by this defendant for this specific model. The defendant does not have any offices, assets, property or employees in Illinois and is not licensed to do business in Illinois. The Italian manufacturer of the helicopter has a wholly-owned subsidiary known as ACC, which is located in Pennsylvania and which makes available for purchase in the United States eight different models of helicopters with defendant’s bearings. It also sells defendant-produced parts. However, the defendant does not have any direct United States customers for its custom-made helicopter parts and denies specific knowledge of the final destination of these products.
The defendant has a business relationship with a company located in Rockford—Hamilton Sundstrand—to whom it sells aerospace bearings, although not of the same model or type as those at issue here. Defendant’s products sold to Hamilton Sundstrand are shipped to San Diego and the Rockford location only processes payments.
The supreme court said that the plaintiff here has met the burden of establishing the requisite minimum contacts for purposes of specific personal jurisdiction. What is involved here is not a single isolated sale, but multiple sales over a period of years, along with regular business dealings with the company in Rockford. Also, the exercise of jurisdiction over a case involving an Illinois accident is not unreasonable.
Thus, the supreme court said that the defendant here is within the reach of the Illinois long-arm statute and that this result comports with due process under both the Illinois Constitution and the Constitution of the United States.