General Principles of Personal Jurisdiction in Defamation Cases

Due process permits state courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over nonresidents who have “minimum contacts” with the forum state. “Minimum contacts” means a relationship between the nonresident and the forum state is such that the exercise of jurisdiction does not offend “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice” under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause. Applying this “minimum contacts” analysis, a Court may obtain either specific or general jurisdiction over the defendant. Specific jurisdiction is proper when the defendant’s “contacts with the forum give rise to the cause of action before the court.” The question is “whether the cause of action arises out of or has a substantial connection with that activity.” Conversely, “when the cause of action does not arise out of or relate to the . . . activities in the forum state,” the state is exercising “general jurisdiction over the defendant.” General jurisdiction is available if the defendant’s activities in the forum are substantial, continuous, and systematic; if so, the foreign defendant is subject to suit in the forum on matters unrelated to his or her contacts to the forum.

The Ninth Circuit has established a three-part test to evaluate the nature and quality of a defendant’s contacts so as to determine the availability of specific jurisdiction: (1) The nonresident defendant must purposefully direct his activities or consummate some transaction with the forum or resident thereof; or perform some act by which she purposefully avails himself of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum, thereby invoking the benefits and protections of its laws; (2) the claim must be one which arises out of or relates to the defendant’s forum related activities; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with fair play and substantial justice, i.e., it must be reasonable. The Plaintiff bears the burden of satisfying the first two prongs. If Plaintiff is successful under the first two prongs, then the burden shifts to the defendant to show that the exercise of jurisdiction would not be reasonable.

The first prong of the three-part specific jurisdiction test requires plaintiff to establish that Defendant “either purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in California or purposefully directed activities toward California.” The Ninth Circuit has noted that it “often use[s] the phrase ‘purposeful availment,’ . . . to include both purposeful availment and purposeful direction, but availment and direction are, in fact, two distinct concepts.” The purposeful availment analysis is the standard for contract cases, while the purposeful direction analysis is most often used in tort cases.

In tort cases, [courts] typically inquire whether a defendant ‘purposefully directs his activities’ at the forum state, applying an ‘effects’ test that focuses on the forum in which the defendant’s actions were felt, whether or not the actions themselves occurred within the forum.” (holding that due process permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant who “purposefully directs[s]” his activities at residents of a forum, even in the ‘absence of physical contact’ with the forum.) The “effects” test comes from the Supreme Court’s decision in Calder v. Jones (1984) 465 U.S. 783, that “the defendant allegedly must have (1) committed an intentional act, (2) expressly aimed at the forum state, (3) causing harm that the defendant knows is likely to be suffered in the forum state.” The ‘intentional act’ to be analyzed is most often the alleged act that forms the basis of the tort; therefore, the first prong of the Calder case is usually decided with little analysis. “[T]he ‘express aiming’ requirement… is satisfied when ‘the defendant is alleged to have engaged in wrongful conduct targeted at a plaintiff whom the defendant knows to be a resident of the forum state.’” However, “[w]here a defendant’s ‘express aim was local’, the fact that it caused harm to the plaintiff in the forum state, even if the defendant knew the plaintiff lived in the forum state, is insufficient to satisfy the [Calder] effects test.” (“[a]n intentional act aimed exclusively at a location other than the forum state, which results in harm to a plaintiff in the forum state, does not satisfy the ‘express aiming’ requirement under Calder.”) If either the purpose availment or purposeful direction analysis is satisfied for a particular party under a given claim, the court continues the specific jurisdiction analysis.

Even if Plaintiff is able to satisfy the first prong of purposeful availment/purposeful direction, the second prong of the test for specific jurisdiction requires that the Defendant’s “contacts with the forum give rise to the cause of action before the court.” The court uses a “but for” test to conduct this analysis. The “but for” question poses the following: “But for” defendant’s contacts with California, would plaintiff’s claims against defendant have arisen?

Assuming Plaintiff successfully demonstrates that Defendant purposefully established minimum contacts with the forum on the first two prongs of the test for specific jurisdiction, then the Defendant “must present a compelling case of the presence of some other considerations which would render jurisdiction unreasonable” in order to defeat personal jurisdiction. Courts often look to seven factors in considering whether the exercise of jurisdiction is reasonable and comports with notions of “fair play and substantial justice”: (1) the extent of the defendants’ purposeful injection into the forum state’s affairs; (2) the burden on the defendant of defending in the forum; (3) the extent of the conflict with the sovereignty of the defendant’s state; (4) the forum state’s interest in adjudicating the dispute; (5) the most efficient judicial resolution of controversy; (6) the importance of the forum to the plaintiff’s interest in convenient and effective relief; and (7) existence of an alternative forum.

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