The Middle District of Florida ruled yesterday in Internet Solutions Corporation v. Marshall, dismissing the case for lack of personal jurisdiction. The plaintiff, a Florida corporation, was upset about blog postings by Ms. Marshall that criticized the company. The company filed a defamation suit in Florida, hoping to drag Ms. Marshall here to defend the case, and to take advantage of the fact that Florida law does not protect free speech any more than the federal Constitution forces it to.
While this case is not really a landmark case — it followed well-worn grooves in the law — it is important to publicize these cases as much as possible. Time and again, I see attorneys in this state ignore their oath of attorney and file defamation suits here, hoping to simply punish the defendant by making him or her defend the case here.
Plaintiffs attorneys who try and skirt the due process clause inevitably try to rely on Calder v. Jones. However, as the Middle District of Florida shows (and as have other courts), this is a pre-internet case, and does not apply to websites the way it applies to newspapers.
ISC contends that Marshall committed tortious acts by posting defamatory comments on her website and targeting individuals in Florida. ISC further alleges that Marshall’s conduct resulted in contact or communications “into” Florida. However, “the minimum contacts must be ‘purposeful’ contacts.” Goforit, 513 F. Supp. 2d at 1329 (citing Beverly Hills Fan Co. v. Royal Sovereign Corp., 21 F.3d 1558, 1565 (Fed. Cir. 1994)). In Calder v. Jones, the United States Supreme Court found that an alleged single tortious act by a National Enquirer editor and reporter in Florida was sufficient to satisfy minimum contacts with the forum state of California. Calder v. Jones, 465 US 783, 789-790 (1984). The two National Enquirer employees were Florida residents who were sued in California for libel.
The court reasoned that the writers purposefully availed themselves by specifically targeting a California audience, making large distributions into California, and publishing articles about a California resident. Id. The court further explained that the alleged tortious conduct was purposeful and calculated to cause injury in California and therefore the editors must have reasonably anticipated being haled into a California court. Id. at 790-791. Unlike Calder, in the case at bar there is no evidence that Marshall specifically targeted Florida residents. Marshall’s website was not only made available to Florida residents, but the website was equally accessible to persons in all states. Under the Calder analysis, even if Marshall’s alleged tortious conduct occurred or resulted in injury in Florida, the single tortious act would not be sufficient to satisfy minimum contacts absent a showing of purposeful availment. According to Marshall’s affidavit, her contacts with Florida were nearly nonexistent.3 (Doc. 5 at 2-4.) ISC has not provided evidence to the contrary. Besides the web site postings do not establish any Florida-specific postings or conduct by Marshall.
Time and again, when these cases are brought before intelligent, thoughtful, and reasonable judges, the judges side with the due process clause of the Constitution, and not plaintiffs’ attorneys who knew, or should have known, that bringing suit here was improper.
The decision is here. ISC v. Marshall, Case No. 6:07-cv-1740-Orl-22KRS (M.D. Fla. April 7, 2008).
For background on the case-in-chief take a trip over to the Citizen Medial Law Project post on the case.