No Long-Arm Jurisdiction Over Out-of-State Internet Author

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A judge recently held that the Massachusetts Superior Court did not have long-arm jurisdiction to hear a defamation claim against several non-residents who allegedly published false, defamatory statements about a Massachusetts resident on the Internet. See Arthur v. Doe, 32 Mass. L. Rptr. 296 (2014), 2014 WL 4364850. The opinion — while not binding authority — may be of interest to foreign litigants who find themselves facing Internet-based defamation claims in the Commonwealth.

In Arthur, the plaintiff alleged that four individual defendants made false statements about his educational background and published them on the Internet. Citing the Commonwealth’s long-arm statute, the plaintiff argued that the Massachusetts trial court had specific personal jurisdiction over three defendants and general personal jurisdiction over the fourth. Massachusetts’ long-arm statute, i.e., M.G.L. c. 223A, s. 3, delineates the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth’s courts over persons in other states and countries. “Specific” personal jurisdiction arises when a cause of action stems from a defendant’s forum-based activities; “general” personal jurisdiction arises out of a defendant’s continuous engagement with the forum state.

“To determine whether the assumption of specific personal jurisdiction over a defendant comports with due process, the court asks whether: (1) the claim underlying the litigation directly arises out of, or relates to, the defendant’s forum-state activities; (2) the defendant’s in-state contacts represent a purposeful availment of the privilege of conducting activities in the forum state, thereby invoking the benefits and protections of that state’s laws and making the defendant’s involuntary presence before the state’s courts foreseeable; and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction…is reasonable.” Arthur, at *5.

The Superior Court judge found that the relatedness prong was satisfied because the plaintiff sufficiently “alleged that the libel was published in Massachusetts and that his injuries occurred within Massachusetts.” Arthur, at *5. However, the plaintiff failed to satisfy the purposeful availment criterion because, the judge found, there was no evidence that the defendants meant to harm the plaintiff specifically in Massachusetts, as opposed to anywhere else. Arthur, at *6-7. Because the purposeful availment prong was not satisfied, the judge did not address whether the exercise of jurisdiction over the defendants would have been reasonable. The claims against the three defendants over whom the plaintiff asked the court to exercise specific jurisdiction were dismissed.

The fourth defendant did not fare as well. “General jurisdiction exists when the litigation is not directly founded on the defendant’s forum-based contacts, but the defendant has nevertheless engaged in continuous and systematic activity unrelated to the suit, in the forum state.” Arthur, at *8 (internal quotation omitted). Based primarily on the fourth defendant’s affiliation with a local university, the judge held that he had “engaged in a persistent course of conduct with Massachusetts.” Id. The judge then decided that the court’s exercise of jurisdiction was reasonable, based on the determination that several factors — commonly referred to as the Gestalt factors — weighed in the plaintiff’s favor: “(1) the defendant’s burden of appearing, (2) the forum state’s interest in adjudicating the dispute, (3) the plaintiff’s interest in obtaining convenient and effective relief, (4) the judicial system’s interest in obtaining the most effective resolution of the controversy, and (5) the common interests of all sovereigns in promoting substantive social policies.” Arthur, at *5, *8. The fourth defendant’s motion to dismiss was denied.

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