Defense of Lack of Personal Jurisdiction to Internet Defamation Lawsuits

We often defend internet defamation and cyber smear cases arising out of negative online reviews and publications based on the defense of lack of personal jurisdiction. We also consider that issue in bringing libel suits for our clients if our client intends to sue an out of state person who has defamed them. The defense is applicable when the defendant is not connected to Illinois and the libelous publications cannot be said to target the harm they will cause into Illinois. Our Chicago Defamation Slander and Libel Attorneys have prevailed on motions to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction when defending clients accused of a cyber smear or of internet defamation based on negative online reviews on the Rip Off Report, Yelp or other review websites.

After a defendant seeks dismissal on jurisdictional grounds then the plaintiff has the burden of showing that jurisdiction exists. Federal courts in Illinois should employ Illinois jurisdictional law when hearing libel cases. Illinois allows its courts to take personal jurisdiction to the full extent permitted under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s due process clause 735 ILCS 5/2-209(c). Thus, "the state statutory and federal constitutional inquiries merge" into one analysis.

Federal due process analysis allows for personal jurisdiction over a defendant from outside of Illinois if the defendant has "certain minimum contacts with [the state] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.' " Courts allow jurisdiction based on two kinds of personal jurisdiction: general jurisdiction and specific jurisdiction. The courts hold that: “A defamation plaintiff can prevail in asserting personal jurisdiction for online posts if either general jurisdiction or specific jurisdiction exists.

General Jurisdiction

General jurisdiction requires that a defendant reside in or conduct substantial business in the forum state. The Court of Appeals based in Chicago holds: "the threshold for general jurisdiction is high; the contacts must be sufficiently extensive and pervasive to approximate physical presence". Isolated or incidental contacts are not sufficient to confer general jurisdiction. Only when an organization is "essentially at home" in the forum State is there general jurisdiction.

In case of websites or postings on the internet, the mere existence of a website or posting a review on the web, absent additional conduct, is not enough for finding general jurisdiction. uBID, Inc. v. GoDaddy Grp. Inc., 623 F.3d 421, 425-26 (7th Cir. 2010) (lack of general jurisdiction even though "extensive and deliberate" web-based contacts existed); Hayward, 2015 WL 5444787 at *6; Jackson v. Calif. Newspapers P'ship, 406 F. Supp. 2d 893, 895 (N.D. Ill. 2005) (website of California newspaper does not create jurisdiction over it for a defamation claim by an Illinois plaintiff).

General jurisdiction will not usually exist for an defendant from out-of-state if it owns no property in Illinois and does not reside or perform any work, business or services here.

Specific Jurisdiction for Defamation Targeted at Illinois

Specific personal jurisdiction only arises out of constitutionally sufficient contacts. uBID, 623 F.3d at 425; Bittman v. Fox, 2015 WL 5612061 at *3 (N.D. Ill. Sep. 23, 2015). Specific jurisdiction calls for: (1) a defendant to purposely direct her activities at the forum state; and (2) the injury alleged to arise out of the defendant’s activity in the forum state or targeted to cause harm in that state by causing reputational harm there. The federal court of appeals based in Chicago for internet torts found the three requirements which must be met for specific personal jurisdiction are: (1) willful or intended conduct; (2) targeted at the forum state; and (3) with the defendant knowing that the impact of its conduct will be felt by the plaintiff in the targeted forum state.

The Supreme Court has found held that the site of plaintiff's injury is relevant but is not the final word on establishing minimum contacts. Walden v. Fiore, 134 S. Ct. 1115 (2014)). Defendant must have targeted the forum. Finding jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant requires more than an alleged injury in the forum.

You can read a recent Circuit Court of Cook County decision where our Chicago Defamation, Libel and Slander Attorneys defeated a libel case involving a negative review on the Rip-Off report here.

Our law firm with offices near Oak Brook have successfully defended or prosecuted a number of libel cases. We have decades of experience in this area. Located in Chicago, Wilmette and Elmhurst, Illinois, we have won judgments or settlements for our clients in libel and slander cases all over Chicago area. Contact us for a free consultation on our toll-free number at 630-333-0333; you can also contact us online.

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