Be Careful What You Post: Personal Jurisdiction in Internet Defamation Suits

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In today’s world, we have countless options for communicating and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become, for many, a big part of our lives. While our modern digital life has increased social connections and removed barriers to communication, it has also led to an increase in defamation claims that challenge traditional notions of personal competence.

In a recent case, Helali c. The guard, the United States District Court for the District of Vermont considered the specific personal competence test and whether alleged defamatory statements about a Vermont resident by a Massachusetts resident in online postings, calls and emails exposed the Massachusetts resident to a lawsuit from Vermont. 2022 US Dist. LEXIS 6008, Case No. 2:21-cv-00141 (January 11, 2022). Since Vermont was the focal point of both the alleged tortious conduct and the harm suffered, the Court held that the plaintiff had established that Ms. Legarde had sufficient minimal contact with Vermont for a specific jurisdiction. The Court recognized that “merely posting on the Internet may not be sufficient to show that conduct was expressly directed at Vermont,” but went on to find that the Calder The “effects test” was indeed met here because the defendant expressly directed its tortious conduct against residents of Vermont, because the reputational effects were felt by the plaintiff in Vermont.

In Helali c. The guard, plaintiff Christopher Helali, a resident of Vermont, brought a defamation action against defendant Zipporah Legarde, a resident of Massachusetts. The two men had previously dated and after the relationship ended, the applicant moved to Vermont. The plaintiff alleged that beginning in late 2018, the defendant “began to engage in threatening and abusive behavior towards [plaintiff] which escalated considerably over time” and “engaged in a deliberate, malicious, relentless and vicious smear campaign against him. a thief, an anti-Semite, and that he had been dishonorably discharged from the army. The defendant also contacted at least six Vermonters with whom the plaintiff had business dealings and made similar statements, while urging the recipients to cut all ties with the plaintiff and not do business with him.

The plaintiff sued for defamation in federal court. The defendant moved to dismiss the case for lack of subject matter and personal jurisdiction, arguing that “[m]there are publications on the Internet” and “statements. . . made outside of Vermont by e-mail and telephone to Vermont residents” cannot form the basis of personal jurisdiction and that plaintiff has not alleged that Ms. Legarde’s conduct was “expressly” directed at the Vermont. The District Court denied the Defendant’s motion. The Court found that the Defendant had sufficient minimal contact with Vermont to exercise specific jurisdiction pursuant to the Due Process Clause. As part of its minimal contact analysis , the Court used the Calderthe “effects test” theory of personal jurisdiction, a framework often used in defamation cases that focuses on the in-state effects of an accused’s out-of-state activity.
Calder vs. Jones465 US 783. The Court also relied on
Walden v. Fiore571 US 277 (2014), which discussed the
Calder “test of effects” and noted that “mere injury to a resident of the forum” is not sufficient contact where the defendant has not “expressly directed his conduct to the forum”.

The Court noted that “[b]By directly contacting and circulating his online postings and other communications to Vermont residents, the alleged tort of defamation occurred in Vermont. Further, the effects caused by Ms. Legarde’s alleged conduct (v. Ms. Legarde’s conduct vis-à-vis the State of Vermont, not just the Vermont-based plaintiff.

Although the Vermont District Court provided additional guidance on sufficient contacts to exercise specific communications jurisdiction in the modern age, there is no clear rule and personal jurisdiction based on minimal contacts will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis. case by case.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.

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