Ask any 1L – personal jurisdiction has always been a tricky issue. But in the internet era, even courts have grappled with how to determine whether an online presence is sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction over a party. Recently, the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled that an internet presence consisting of a website as well as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn pages could not sufficiently demonstrate the “foreseeability or awareness” that a product would reach a forum state’s market required to establish personal jurisdiction. The decision reaffirmed that even in the age of social media, defendants must still directly target a forum to be subject to personal jurisdiction there.
In Homer v. DNOW LP, No. CV 16-1210, 2016 WL 6600003 (E.D. La. Nov. 8, 2016), the Eastern District of Louisiana rejected Plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration arguing that they established a prima facie showing of specific personal jurisdiction. As the court noted, Plaintiffs supported their effort by submitting pages from Defendant’s website “which show [Defendant] services eighteen distributors in Louisiana” as well as “documents related to [Defendant’s] social media presence, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn,” which Plaintiffs alleged demonstrated “advertis[ing] to Louisiana residents.” Homer, 2016 WL 6600003, at *2.
With respect to Plaintiffs’ argument that Defendant’s website provided sufficient evidence to support personal jurisdiction, the Court noted that there was no showing of “any special relationship between [Defendant] and the distributors or that the volume of sales is sufficient to demonstrate foreseeability or awareness.” In other words, the list of Louisiana distributors alone – without any information showing Defendant specifically targeted Louisiana for business – could not be a basis for personal jurisdiction.
The court then turned to an ever-more pressing consideration: the effect of Defendant’s social media presence on personal jurisdiction. According to Plaintiffs, the Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn pages satisfied the classic minimum contacts analysis. To analyze this claim, the court looked to a decision from the Western District of Pennsylvania (since adopted by the Fifth Circuit), Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F.Supp. 119 (W.D. Pa. 1997). The Zippo analysis directs courts to evaluate a party’s web presence on a sliding scale, with one end being a “passive” (and thus insufficient) presence, and the other end constituting “sites whose owners engage in repeated online contacts with forum residents over the internet,” such that personal jurisdiction is proper. Homer, 2016 WL 6600003, at *2 (citations omitted).
The Eastern District of Louisiana observed that, because “Zippo mandates that personal jurisdiction be based on actual internet sales to the forum residents not the possibility of sales,” mere demonstration of the existence of social media sites was not enough to confer jurisdiction. Additionally, the court noted that it is contacts the Defendant itself creates that trigger personal jurisdiction, so Defendant’s instruction to contact a local retailer to purchase products rather than offering them directly for sale did not satisfy the personal jurisdiction standard. Thus, where Plaintiffs did not allege that any Louisiana resident bought or could buy a product through Defendant’s website or social media page, no personal jurisdiction over Defendant existed in Louisiana.
With companies across all industries relying increasingly on social media to connect with consumers, the question of which activities trigger the ability to sue in a given forum will only rise in prominence. In addition, the question will likely also rise in complexity; as the Homer decision indicates, courts will continue to weigh the extent of online interactions as well as distributorship arrangements in the personal jurisdiction analysis, even as businesses evolve.