Allegedly Defamatory Facebook Post Alone Isn't Grounds for Personal Jurisdiction

Jan. 20 — Publicly posting an allegedly defamatory Facebook post doesn't create enough of a connection with a state for a court to exercise personal jurisdiction, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, ruled Jan. 14.

Justice Richard D. Fybel wrote that the plaintiffs in this case would need to show that defendant Douglas Burdick expressly aimed or specifically directed his conduct at California. The plaintiffs said Burdick posted on Facebook that he would share “scandalous information” about the plaintiffs, who wrote blog entries that questioned the safety and efficacy of NeriumAD, a skin-care product.

Plaintiffs George Taylor and John Sanderson alleged that Burdick and his colleagues at Nerium International engaged in a harassment campaign against them based on their blog posts about NeriumAD. The court said Burdick's Facebook post said he would share information, including why one allegedly used multiple Social Security numbers and how many times one allegedly was charged with domestic violence.

The court directed the lower court to rule on the plaintiffs' request for jurisdictional discovery and quash the summons if there was no evidence that personal jurisdiction was warranted.

Negative Internet Posts Insufficient

“We agree with those cases holding that merely posting on the Internet negative comments about the plaintiff and knowing the plaintiff is in the forum state are insufficient to create minimum contacts,” the court held. It explained that due process rights under the U.S. and California constitutions require that a defendant have sufficient minimum contacts with a state for a court there to exercise jurisdiction.

According to the opinion, Burdick lives and works in Illinois and was within that state when he uploaded the allegedly defamatory Facebook post.

The court said the U.S. Supreme Court in Walden v. Fiore, 134 S. Ct. 1115, 2014 BL 49900 (2014), held that a state may exercise jurisdiction when that defendant's relationship with the state “arises out of contacts that the ‘defendant himself' creates with the forum State” and that the defendant's contacts must be with the state itself, “not the defendant's contacts with persons who reside there.”

Although the Supreme Court left “for another day” how to address jurisdictional issues when intentional torts are committed on the Internet, the California appellate court said the Walden ruling's principles meant the question was whether the Facebook post created a substantial connection between Burdick and California.

“Plaintiffs did not produce evidence to show Burdick's personal Facebook page or the allegedly defamatory posting was expressly aimed or intentionally targeted at California, that either the Facebook page or the posting had a California audience, that any significant number of Facebook ‘friends,' who might see the posting, lived in California, or that the Facebook page had advertisements targeting Californians,” the court said.

It added that the fact that Burdick's Facebook page was public would actually make it “less likely Burdick had intentionally targeted California as opposed to any other jurisdiction.”

Dorsey & Whitney LLP represented Taylor and Sanderson. Stephens Friedland LLP and Horvitz & Levy represented Burdick.