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When specific jurisdiction is based on online interactions via an Internet website, the Fifth Circuit is guided by the sliding scale adopted in Zippo, 952 F. Supp. at 1124. Zippo requires the court to assess the level of interactivity of the defendant's website. It prescribes different outcomes to the personal jurisdiction question depending on which of the following three categories the website falls into: (1) where a website is nothing more than a passive advertisement, the court must decline to exercise personal jurisdiction; (2) where a website facilitates contractual relationships and the knowing and repeated transmission of computer files over the Internet, personal jurisdiction is proper; and (3) where a website falls somewhere in between, "the exercise of jurisdiction is determined by the level of interactivity and commercial nature of the exchange of information that occurs on the [w]ebsite."
Plaintiff Shippitsa Limited instituted a trademark infringement action against defendants MoreNiche Limited ("MoreNiche") and Andrew Jon Slack ("Slack") before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division. The defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff’s claims against them, alleging that the District Court for the Northern District of Texas lacked personal jurisdiction over them. The district court granted the defendants’ motion, and rejected plaintiff’s theory of personal jurisdiction, i.e., that defendants have the required minimum contacts with the forum because their webpage – mixi.mn - caused visitors’ web browsers, including web browsers located in the District of Texas, to connect automatically to a different website. Plaintiff moved for reconsideration, contending that the court's focus on the visible, rather than the invisible, aspects of mixi.mn was a manifest error of fact. Plaintiff re-urged its argument that mixi.mn can support personal jurisdiction under the test stipulated in Zippo Manufacturing Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 1119 (W.D. Pa. 1997).
In the plaintiff’s trademark infringement action, did the District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division have personal jurisdiction over the defendants?
For the court to properly assert specific personal jurisdiction, the defendant must have “purposefully directed” his activities at residents of the forum, and the litigation must result from alleged injuries that “arise out of or relate to” the defendant’s activities directed at the forum. When specific jurisdiction was based on online interactions via an Internet website, the Fifth Circuit should be guided by the sliding scale adopted in Zippo, 952 F. Supp. at 1124, which prescribed different outcomes to the personal jurisdiction question depending on the categorization of the website. In the case at bar, the court held that the defendants’ webpage, mixi.mn, cannot support the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction under the Zippo test. Contrary to the plaintiff’s argument, the court’s analysis focused on the visible elements of mixi.mn because, according to existing case law, those were the elements that matter under the Zippo test. Moreover, the court's focus on the visible elements of mixi.mn was sensible in light of the underlying principles of personal jurisdiction embodied in the Zippo test. The fact that the mixi.mn webpage automatically sends redirect instructions to all visitors did not evince "purposeful conduct," on the part of the defendants. In addition, the court found that there was no evidence that defendants conducted business over the Internet by engaging in business transactions with forum residents or by entering into contracts over the Internet. The defendants’ webpage was not sufficiently interactive in the context of the Zippo sliding scale. Accordingly, the court denied the plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration.