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Schaefer v. Synergy Flight Center, LLC

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District

August 26, 2019

JOHN C. SCHAEFER, as Administrator of Estate of Andrew C. Butler, Deceased; LYNDSEY F. JONES, as Executor of the Estate of Woodrow Jason Jones, Deceased; LINDSAY R. LEETCH, as Executor of the Estate of Aaron R. Leetch, Deceased; JOAN B. STRALOW, as Executor of the Estate of Terry L. Stralow, Deceased; and JANICE WARD, as Administrator of the Estate of Torrey Ward, Deceased, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
SYNERGY FLIGHT CENTER, LLC, a Limited Liability Company; AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, LLC, a Limited Liability Company; AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, INC., a Corporation; G&N AIRCRAFT, INC., a Corporation; RAM AIRCRAFT, LP, a Limited Partnership; CONTINENTAL MOTORS, INC., a Corporation; SANDEL AVIONICS, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN INTERNATIONAL, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN AT, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN USA, INC., a Corporation; and GARMIN NORTH AMERICA, INC., a Corporation; Defendants RAM Aircraft, L.P., Defendant-Appellant. AMI HILEMAN, as Executor of the Estate of Thomas W. Hileman, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SYNERGY FLIGHT CENTER, LLC, an Illinois Limited Liability Company for Profit; G&N AIRCRAFT, INC., a Corporation for Profit; CONTINENTAL MOTORS, INC., a Corporation for Profit; RAM AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, INC., an Illinois Corporation for Profit; and AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, LLC, an Illinois Limited Liability Company for Profit, Defendants RAM Aircraft, L.P., Defendant-Appellant. CARRIE L. BITTNER, as Executive of the Estate of Scott Lee Bittner, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SYNERGY FLIGHT CENTER, LLC, a Limited Liability Company; AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, LLC, a Limited Liability Company; AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, INC., a Corporation; G&N AIRCRAFT, INC., a Corporation; RAM AIRCRAFT, LP, a Limited Partnership; CONTINENTAL MOTORS, INC., a Corporation; SANDEL AVIONICS, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN INTERNATIONAL, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN AT, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN USA, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN NORTH AMERICA, INC., a Corporation, Defendants RAM Aircraft, L.P., Defendant-Appellant. JOAN B. STRALOW, as Executor of the Estate of Terry L. Stralow, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SYNERGY FLIGHT CENTER, LLC, a Limited Liability Company; AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, LLC, a Limited Liability Company; AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, INC., a Corporation; G&N AIRCRAFT, INC., a Corporation; RAM AIRCRAFT, LP, a Limited Partnership; CONTINENTAL MOTORS, INC., a Corporation; SANDEL AVIONICS, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN INTERNATIONAL, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN AT, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN USA, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN NORTH AMERICA, INC., a Corporation, Defendants RAM Aircraft, L.P., Defendant-Appellant. LYNDSEY F. JONES, as Executor of the Estate of Woodrow Jason Jones, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SYNERGY FLIGHT CENTER, LLC, a Limited Liability Company; AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, LLC, a Limited Liability Company; AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, INC., a Corporation; G&N AIRCRAFT, INC., a Corporation; RAM AIRCRAFT, LP, a Limited Partnership; CONTINENTAL MOTORS, INC, a Corporation; SANDEL AVIONICS, INC, a Corporation; GARMIN INTERNATIONAL, INC, a Corporation; GARMIN AT, INC, a Corporation; GARMIN USA, INC, a Corporation; GARMIN NORTH AMERICA, INC, a Corporation, Defendants RAM Aircraft, L.P., Defendant-Appellant. LINDSAY R. LEETCH, as Executor of the Estate of Aaron R. Leetch, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SYNERGY FLIGHT CENTER, LLC, a Limited Liability Company; AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, LLC, a Limited Liability Company; AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, INC., a Corporation; G&N AIRCRAFT, INC., a Corporation; RAM AIRCRAFT, LP, a Limited Partnership; CONTINENTAL MOTORS, INC., a Corporation; SANDEL AVIONICS, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN INTERNATIONAL, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN AT, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN USA, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN NORTH AMERICA, INC., a Corporation, Defendants RAM Aircraft, L.P., Defendant-Appellant. JANICE WARD, as Administrator of the Estate of Torrey Ward, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SYNERGY FLIGHT CENTER, LLC, a Limited Liability Company; AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, LLC, a Limited Liability Company; AIRCRAFT PROPELLER SERVICE, INC., a Corporation; G&N AIRCRAFT, INC., a Corporation; RAM AIRCRAFT, LP, a Limited Partnership; CONTINENTAL MOTORS, INC, a Corporation; SANDEL AVIONICS, INC, a Corporation; GARMIN INTERNATIONAL, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN AT, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN USA, INC., a Corporation; GARMIN NORTH AMERICA, INC., a Corporation, Defendants RAM Aircraft, L.P., Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Nos. 16 L 10096, 17 L 3448, 17 L 3523, 17 L 7363, 17 L 7373, 17 L 7375, 17 L 7377 The Honorable Daniel T. Gillespie, Judge Presiding.

          John S. Hoff and Jared A. Schneider, of Cremer, Spina, Shaughnessy, Jansen & Siegert, LLC, of Chicago, for appellant. Attorneys for Appellant

          Donald J. Nolan, Thomas P. Routh, and Michael S. McArdle, of Nolan Law Group, of Chicago, for appellees John C. Schaefer, Carrie L. Bittner, Lyndsey F. Jones, and Lindsay R. Leetch. Kevin J. Golden, of Dudley & Lake, LLC, of Chicago, for appellee Joan B. Stralow. David I. Katzman, of Katzman Lampert & Stoll, of Troy, Michigan, for appellee Ami Hileman. Matthew C. Minner, of Hare Wynn Newell & Newton, of Lexington, Kentucky, for other appellee. Attorneys for Appellee

          JUSTICE WALKER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Pierce and Justice Griffin concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          WALKER, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Seven men died from a plane crash in Illinois on April 7, 2015. The estates of the seven men filed complaints against RAM Aircraft, L.P. (RAM) and others for negligence. The circuit court denied RAM's motion to dismiss it from the lawsuits for lack of personal jurisdiction. We hold that RAM's ongoing business relationships with Illinois customers, together with the alleged negligence in Illinois, suffice to give the circuit court personal jurisdiction over RAM. We affirm the circuit court's order denying the motion to dismiss.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 A plane crashed on April 7, 2015, and seven men died. The estates of the seven decedents filed complaints alleging that RAM negligently overhauled, repaired, and tested the plane's controller, left engine, and other parts. The circuit court consolidated the cases and permitted discovery on the jurisdictional issue raised in RAM's motion to dismiss it from all the lawsuits.

         ¶ 4 Rick Roper, RAM's director of operations, described RAM as a Texas limited partnership that derives most of its income from overhauling Continental 520 and 550 series airplane engines. RAM also sells some aircraft parts. RAM advertises in several aviation magazines with national distribution, targeting "general aviation fleet." RAM is registered to do business in Texas and is not registered in any other state. With rare exceptions, RAM performed its work in Texas. RAM has no office, property, or assets in Illinois, and it has no Illinois phone number. In the fiscal year ending in 2011, Illinois customers accounted for barely 1% of RAM's revenues; in the fiscal year ending in 2013, Illinois customers accounted for a little more than 2.5% of RAM's revenues. Sales to Illinois customers in other years from 2010 through 2015 fell between the 2011 level and the 2013 level. Roper stated, "The number of sales by RAM to customers in Illinois between 2010 and 2015 is comparable to the number of sales by RAM to customers in other individual states outside of Texas during the same time period." Roper admitted that in several transactions, RAM sold parts to West Star Aviation in Illinois. Between 2012 and 2016, RAM similarly had multiple sales to Loravco, Ideal Aviation, Synergy Flight Center, LLC (Synergy), Hileman Aviation, Ozark Air Services, Inc., and Jet Air, Inc., all in Illinois.

         ¶ 5 The maintenance record for the plane that crashed showed that RAM overhauled its left engine in March 2008. In December 2013, Synergy, in Illinois, "Installed *** Starter Adapter O/H'ed by Ram Aircraft." In January 2014, RAM shipped a controller to G&N Aircraft, Inc. (G&N), in Indiana, and G&N shipped the parts to Synergy, who installed the controller and the engine in the plane.

         ¶ 6 The circuit court denied RAM's motion to dismiss. RAM now appeals.

         ¶ 7 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 8 On appeal, RAM argues that the circuit court erred as a matter of law when it concluded that RAM is subject to personal jurisdiction in Illinois. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 306(a)(3) (eff. Nov. 1, 2017) gives this court jurisdiction over the appeal. The circuit court held no evidentiary hearing, and it based its decision solely on the documents the parties presented in court. Therefore, we review the circuit court's decision de novo. Wiggen v. Wiggen, 2011 IL App (2d) 100982, ¶ 20.

         ¶ 9 Russell v. SNFA, 2013 IL 113909, guides our decision here. SNFA, a French company, manufactured bearings for aircraft. Id. ¶ 1. It had no office, assets, property, or employees in Illinois, and it had no license to do business in Illinois. Id. ¶ 10. SNFA sold some tail-rotor bearings for helicopters to Agusta, an Italian company that manufactured helicopters. Id. ¶ 5. A German owner sold an Agusta helicopter to Metro Aviation, a Louisiana corporation, in 1998. Metro Aviation purchased from a subsidiary of Agusta based in Pennsylvania some tail-rotor bearings that SNFA manufactured. Metro Aviation used the new bearings to replace some of the helicopter's tail-rotor bearings. Metro Aviation later sold the helicopter to Air Angels, Inc. (Air Angels), an Illinois air ambulance service. Id. ¶ 6. Russell, an Air Angels employee, died when the helicopter crashed in 2003. Id. ΒΆ 4. Russell's estate sued several parties, including SNFA. The estate alleged that the tail-rotor bearings' failure caused ...


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