Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed April 18, 2013



Russell v. SNFA, 2013 IL 113909

Appellate citation: 2011 IL App (1st) 093012-B.


      CHIEF JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Justices Freeman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

      Justice Garman dissented, with opinion.

      Justice Thomas took no part in the decision.


      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.