Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Knowing defamation of plaintiff insufficient for personal jurisdiction in home state

Hoffman v. Barnes, 2012 WL 1021837 (N.D. Ill.)
Hoffman and his screen printing equipment company M&R sued Barnes for defamation, violation of the Illinois UDTPA, and false advertising under the Lanham Act, based on posts on two printing industry related discussion forums.  (Side note: I dearly love the internet and its ability to sustain two, and most likely more, printing industry related discussion forums.)
Barnes moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and the court granted the motion.
Hoffman lives in Lake County, Illinois, and M & R is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Barnes, who sells equipment made by M&R’s competitors, lives in North Carolina.
Due process is the limit on personal jurisdiction under Illinois law.  Because Barnes lacked continuous and systematic contacts with Illinois allowing the exercise of general jurisdiction, the court examined specific jurisdiction: whether Barnes purposefully directed his activities at Illinois and whether the alleged injury arose out of those activities sufficiently that the exercise of jurisdiction would comport with due process.  For intentional torts, constitutionally sufficient contacts exist if the defendant’s actions are expressly aimed at the forum state, with the defendant’s knowledge that the effects would be felt/the plaintiff injured in the forum state.  Express aiming has proved tricky to evaluate.
The complaint easily alleged intentional tortious conduct and Barnes’s knowledge thatHoffman would feel the brunt of his injury in Illinois since that is where Hoffman resides and where M & R Printing is located. Barnes even “posted a photograph of himself standing in front of the M & R Printing headquarters in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.”
So is that it for express aiming?  Well, if so, would it be a separate prong?  Some courts have basically read it out, requiring only conduct that is “targeted at a plaintiff whom the defendant knows to be a resident of the forum state,” while others require the forum state to be the “focal point of the tort.”  The 7th Circuit considers the relationship between the allegedly tortious conduct and the forum state itself to be a crucial consideration. Tamburo v. Dworkin, 601 F.3d 693 (7th Cir.2010), found that while precedent had “read Calder to require a forum-state injury and ‘something more’ directed at that state before jurisdiction over a defendant may be considered proper, … “[t]ortious acts aimed at a target in the forum state and undertaken for the express purpose of causing injury there are sufficient to satisfy Calder' s express-aiming requirement.”  Still, that something more has to be more than mere residence of the plaintiff.
Here, the court found that there was no evidence of express aiming beyond plaintiffs’ mere residence in Illinois.  Though Barnes’s comments were clearly aimed at plaintiffs, the fact that they were located in Illinois was merely incidental; M&R apparently sells equipment all over the world.  In Tamburo, some of the harassing messages at issue provided the plaintiff’s Illinois address and urged readers to contact and harass him, but here there was no similar targeting of Illinois.  “Although the comments also encourage readers to purchase other products, there are no allegations that any actual customers were swayed by Barnes' comments or that anyone contacted Hoffman directly in Illinois.”  Diverting sales from M&R seemed secondary to a personal attack on Hoffman.  This wasn’t enough for express aiming.
The court didn’t believe that Calder allowed any plaintiff to hale any defendant into court in the plaintiff’s home state, where the defendant had no contacts, merely by asserting that the defendant had committed a tort.

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