Author: Allison Pedrazzi Helfrich
In January 2008, Jan Kruska filed defamation, cyberstalking, and other claims against Perverted Justice Foundation, Inc. (and other defendants), for disseminating rumors on various websites that Kruska was a convicted child molester and a pedophile. In December 2008, a U.S. District Court in Arizona dismissed the complaint against Perverted Justice Foundation based on a lack of personal jurisdiction. Perverted Justice is a non-profit corporation based in California and Oregon and has no licenses or designated agent for service of process in Arizona, conducts no business with Arizona, and is not incorporated in Arizona. The court held there could be no general jurisdiction over Perverted Justice “in the absence of these types of contacts that approximate physical presence in Arizona.” The plaintiff argued, however, that Perverted Justice made her a target of its online activities and therefore became subject to jurisdiction in Arizona by expressly aiming its tortious actions at the forum state. Although the court recognized the “effects test” basis for jurisdiction, it held that the “essentially passive nature” of Perverted Justice’s activity in posting a website with a low degree of interactivity is not sufficient to establish specific jurisdiction.
In August 2007, Jan Kruska received emails accusing her of being a pedophile and a child molester, which she claims were a response to an article in which she criticized certain anti-pedophile laws. Shortly after, she discovered blog postings and websites containing similar accusations. Some of the websites allegedly published personal information about Kruska, such as her address, and copyrighted photographs of her. Kruska alleges that she was a victim of a coordinated online defamatory campaign, eventually leading to death threats and causing her significant emotional distress. In January 2008, Kruska brought a pro se lawsuit for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, copyright infringement, cyberstalking, and RICO and DMCA violations.
Kruska’s initial suit named GoDaddy.com, Barbara Ochoa, MySpace.com, and Perverted Justice Foundation, Inc., as defendants. Kruska alleged that Perverted Justice and Barbara Ochoa (AKA Petra Luna) orchestrated the defamatory campaign against her, and MySpace.com and GoDaddy.com hosted the allegedly tortious content on the Internet. Kruska voluntarily dropped charges against MySpace.com, and the court granted Ochoa’s motion to dismiss (with leave to amend) on jurisdictional grounds and granted GoDaddy.com’s motion to dismiss because Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act precluded liability.
In December 2008, the court also granted Perverted Justice’s motion to dismiss for failure to establish personal jurisdiction. In its opinion, the Arizona district court acknowledged that the advent of the Internet has created new jurisdictional concerns, quoting the 1958 Supreme Court that noted, “as technological progress has increased the flow of commerce between States, the need for jurisdiction has undergone a similar increase.” The court cited the sliding scale approach used in Zippo Mfg. Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., which determined a website’s “presence” based on its level of interactivity. Because the only contact Perverted Justice has with Arizona is through its websites, which have a low degree of interactivity, the court held there were no “systematic and continuous” contacts necessary to establish general jurisdiction in the forum state. The court stressed that Perverted Justice conducts no business with Arizona, has no designated agent for service of process in the state, holds no Arizona licenses, and is not incorporated under Arizona law, implying that these types of factors “that approximate physical presence” are determinative in jurisdictional analysis.
The court then turned to specific jurisdiction, invoking the three-pronged 9th Circuit test, which first requires the court to determine if the defendant purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting business in Arizona. The court notes that under the “effects test” of Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984), an act “that is both aimed at the forum state and has effect there satisfies the purposeful availment prong for specific jurisdiction.” Kruska, a resident of Arizona, alleged that Perverted Justice targeted her in its web site activities, and thus engaged in the kind of directed tortious activity that satisfies the “effects test.” The court rejected Kruska’s argument, holding that Kruska did not demonstrate how a website with a low degree of interactivity, equally accessible to anyone in the world, is aimed at Arizona. The court concluded that the “essentially passive nature” of posting a website that allegedly defames a plaintiff does not satisfy the purposeful availment prong, and therefore, fails to establish specific jurisdiction.
2008 WL 5235373