Client Alert: Alleged Defamatory Facebook Post by Illinois Resident Insufficient to Create Specific Personal Jurisdiction in California

In Burdick v. Superior Court (Sanderson) (No. G049107, filed 1/14/2015), the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, held an Illinois resident was not subject to specific personal jurisdiction in California state court as a result of the Illinois resident posting alleged defamatory remarks on Facebook about the plaintiff, a California resident.

Plaintiffs, John Sanderson and George Taylor (“Plaintiffs”), sued Douglas Burdick (“Burdick”), an Illinois resident, alleging defamation and other intentional torts arising from a publicly disseminated post made by Burdick on his Facebook page while in Illinois. Plaintiffs’ verified complaint alleged Burdick, as an officer of Nerium International, posted on his personal Facebook page an announcement that “scandalous information would be revealed regarding the ‘Blogging Scorpions.'” Burdick also posted that new information regarding Plaintiffs would be posted shortly regarding “[w]hy he uses multiple social security numbers” and “how many times he has been charged with domestic violence.” The complaint alleged a reasonable person reading the statements would understand “Blogging Scorpions” as a direct reference to Plaintiffs.

Burdick filed a motion to quash service of summons based on lack of personal jurisdiction. Burdick argued he was a resident of Illinois, had never lived in California, had never owned or leased property in California, never had employees in California, and had never been a party to a contract with any person from California. Burdick supported his Motion with a declaration that also asserted he had posted and later removed the allegedly defamatory Facebook post from his personal Facebook page while he was in the State of Illinois.

Plaintiffs opposed the motion to quash, arguing Burdick’s post was on a publicly available Facebook wall. The Court denied Burdick’s Motion holding he was subject to specific personal jurisdiction under the “effects” test of Calder v. Jones (1984) 465 U.S. 783, 789 (“Calder“). Burdick appealed, and the Fourth Appellate District reversed.

The Court of Appeal reasoned that posting defamatory remarks about a person on a public Facebook page, while knowing that person resides in the forum state, is insufficient (by itself) to create the minimum contacts necessary to support specific jurisdiction in a lawsuit arising out of that post. Instead, the Court held it would be necessary that the non-resident defendant not only intentionally posted the statements, but that the defendant “expressly aim[ed] or specifically direct[ed] his or her intentional conduct at the forum, rather than at the plaintiff who lives there.” The Court emphasized “the exercise of personal jurisdiction must be based upon forum-related acts that were personally committed by the nonresident defendant.”

Specifically, the Court considered Plaintiffs’ argument that Burdick was subject to personal jurisdiction under the Calder “effects test.” The Burdick Court distinguished Calder, noting Plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate Burdick’s Facebook post was expressly aimed at California, as opposed to Plaintiffs, such that California was the focal point of the tortious activity.

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January 20, 2015