Law School Case Brief
Jackson v. Cal. Newspapers P'ship - 406 F. Supp. 2d 893 (N.D. Ill. 2005)
The mere maintenance of an Internet website is generally not sufficient to exercise general jurisdiction.
Plaintiff Vincent “Bo” Jackson brought an action alleging defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress against defendants, who were The California Newspapers Partnership, MediaNews Group, Inc., MediaNews Group Interactive, Inc., Jim Mohr, Steve Lambert and Robert Balzer, in an Illinois state court. Defendants removed the case to federal district court.
The alleged defamatory remarks were published in a California newspaper (“Inland Valley Daily Bulletin”) and on the Internet site tied to the paper (www.dailybulletin.com). Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff’s action for want of personal jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2). Plaintiff argued that the federal district court sitting in Illinois had both general and specific jurisdiction over defendants. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that the uninterrupted availability to Illinois web surfers was enough to grant general jurisdiction over defendants.
Was the maintenance of an Internet website sufficient to grant a federal district court in Illinois general jurisdiction over the defendants, who included a California newspapers group and publication in California?
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois explained that because the Illinois long-arm statute authorized jurisdiction on any basis permitted by the federal and state Constitutions, the Court must focus on whether personal jurisdiction over defendants comports with notions of due process. In considering a motion to dismiss for want of personal jurisdiction, the Court accepts a plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations as true unless controverted by defendants' affidavits, resolving any conflicts in the affidavits in favor of the plaintiff. The plaintiff has the burden of making a prima facie case for personal jurisdiction. The Court held that plaintiff Jackson did not meet that burden. The Court noted that defendants rightly suggested that the internet provides a different context for analyzing personal jurisdiction. The Court granted defendants' motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.
The personal jurisdiction in this case was controlled by the defamation "effects" test set forth in Calder v. Jones, and underscored by the sliding scale Internet analysis set forth in Zippo. In judging minimum contacts, a court properly focuses on 'the relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation. Thus, the Court carefully analyzed the facts of these defendants, their relationships to Illinois, and Illinois' interest in the defamation action at hand. The Court held that the maintenance of an Internet website was not sufficient to grant the court general jurisdiction. In this case, the defendants did not contact Illinois sources, did not focus the story on Illinois or any event that occurred in Illinois, and did not know that plaintiff resided in Illinois. While it was clear that while the website may be interactive for California residents, it did not aim its services at Illinois residents. There was no reason for defendants to foresee that Illinois residents would access their local California website in order to link to a national site, especially when they could have directly accessed the national site, without passing through www.dailybulletin.com. The Court concluded that haling defendants into an Illinois court based on an article regarding a local California forum posted on a local California website would offend notions of due process.
In addition, the Court declined to exercise specific jurisdiction because defendants could not foresee, much less did they target, the transmission of the allegedly defamatory story into Illinois; not one Illinois resident was subscribed to either the newspaper or the electronic newspaper. The Court further noted that Illinois' interest in adjudicating this action was not very high. Because defendants did not target Illinois residents, Illinois did not have regulatory interest in correcting for future wrongs against other Illinois residents. The Court ultimately concluded that exercising personal jurisdiction over defendants would offend notions of fair play and substantial justice.
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