Breaking Up is Hard To Do: A Look at Personal Jurisdiction for Online Defamation

Law school is notorious for ending relationships.  Fatima R. Dos Santos Fahmy v. Stephen Graham Hogge, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87103 takes the cake of a bad break-up between former law students and illustrates the requirements for a court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a blogger for defamation. 

 

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The plaintiff and defendant were two attorneys who had a relationship while in law school in Florida.  The Plaintiff moved to California after law school and the Defendant stayed in Florida.  After years without contact or knowing where the Plaintiff was living, the Defendant referred to the Plaintiff on his blog as a “mentally ill alcoholic prostitute” along with some other attacks on the Plaintiff’s character.[1] 

 

The Defendant sued in California for defamation.  The Defendant in turned challenged the California court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over him.  The Court found that the defamatory information on Internet was not sufficient to exercise personal jurisdiction over the Defendant.

 

For a Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a party for an online defamatory statement, the Plaintiff must show Defendant “expressly aimed” conduct at Plaintiff in California and that the Defendant knew Plaintiff was resident of California.  In the current case, the Plaintiff failed to meet these requirements.

 

The traditional principles of Civil Procedure have gotten less air time in comparison to cases focusing on the defensibility of search terms, form of production or spoliation.  However, service of process, personal jurisdiction and other traditional Civil Procedure tenets can still derail an e-Discovery case as they can a “traditional lawsuit,” no matter how meritorious the facts may sound.


[1] Fatima R. Dos Santos Fahmy v. Stephen Graham Hogge, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87103

Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg from 2013 to 2016 and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.