Estate’s Prima Facie Evidence Defeats French Manufacturer’s Jurisdiction Dismissal

Michael Russell died in a helicopter crash. His estate sued SNFA, a French company that manufactured the part of the helicopter the estate claimed was defective and caused the crash. SNFA claimed the trial court did not have personal jurisdiction over the company, and so asked the court to dismiss the case.

The trial court agreed, and ruled the estate “failed to meet its burden of showing continuous and systematic presence in Illinois” and that the accident “did not arise out of an Illinois activity.” But the First District Illinois Appellate Court reversed and sent the case back to the trial court for a decision on the merits.

The appellate court discussed the proper standard of review of a decision to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

“The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a prima facie basis upon which jurisdiction over an out-of-state resident may be exercised.” … “If jurisdictional facts remain in controversy, then the court must conduct a hearing to resolve those disputes.” … “When the circuit court decides a jurisdictional question solely on the basis of documentary evidence” and without an evidentiary hearing, as it did in this case, then “the question is addressed de novo [trial court ruling gets no discretion] on appeal.” … On appeal, we must “resolve in favor of the plaintiff any conflicts in the pleadings and affidavits.” … If we find that plaintiff has made a prima facie case for jurisdiction, we must then determine if any material evidentiary conflicts exist … If a material evidentiary conflict exists, we must remand the case to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing …

In this case, the appellate court ruled: SNFA had sufficient minimum contacts with Illinois to establish jurisdiction; it was reasonable for an Illinois court to exercise jurisdiction over the French company; it was reasonably foreseeable that SNFA could be required to answer a claim in an American court.

Read the whole case, Russell v. SNFA, No. 1-09-3012 (3/31/11), by clicking here.