In early November, the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas applied the "effects test" set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984), to deny a defendant’s motion to dismiss an Internet defamation case for lack of personal jurisdiction.
The case, McVea v. Crisp, 2007 WL 4205648 (W.D. Tex. 2007), involves allegedly defamatory statements posted on the website www.thealamofilm.com concerning the research and works of Denise McVea and Jeff Dunn relating to historical figures from Texas. Plaintiff filed suit in Texas; defendant acknowledged authoring the offending posts but filed a motion to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2).
In analyzing the personal jurisdiction issue, the court applied the analysis adopted in Calder, where the Supreme Court found personal jurisdiction in California over a Florida defendant who wrote allegedly defamatory statements concerning the activities of a California resident "based on the ‘effects’ of [the] Florida conduct in California." The Supreme Court held that the allegedly tortuous conduct was directed at California and the defendants knew that the effect of that conduct would be most felt in California where the allegedly defamatory statements were most widely circulated.
In applying Calder, the district court distinguished the case before it from the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Revell v. Lidov, 317 F.3d 467 (5th Cir. 2002), in which a defamatory article about a Texas resident was posted on an Internet bulletin board hosted by Columbia University. In that case, the Fifth Circuit found no personal jurisdiction over the defendant in Texas, noting that the offending article lacked any reference to Texas or Texas activities and that the defendant was unaware that the plaintiff resided in Texas at the time the article was posted.
In McVea, the district court found that the website hosting the allegedly defamatory statements was "dedicated to postings and topics of interests [sic] to academic and amateur historians on the subject of the Texas Revolution." The court further found that the defendant knew, or had reason to know, that the plaintiff resided in Texas and that the geographic focus of the allegedly defamatory posting was Texas (it discussed historical research about a Texas revolutionary figure). According to the court, "[t]hese factors support the likelihood that Defendant knew the brunt of the injury, if any, would be felt in Texas. This is an essential factor of the Calder test, which was missing in Revell." The court thus held: "Defendant’s comments were aimed at a Texas resident and directed to a predominately Texas audience on a website devoted to Texas history. It is reasonable to settle the dispute in Texas."
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