Plaintiffs Bo Jackson (“Jackson”) and Ellen Coleman brought an action initially in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, alleging defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress in response to an article in defendants’ newspaper, published in California, and on its website stating that "Bo Jackson lost his hip because of anabolic [steroid] abuse."After removing the action to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, defendants moved to dismiss for want of personal jurisdiction and improper venue or, in the alternative, to transfer the case to California. The Court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss and found personal jurisdiction lacking because defendants did not have the requisite “minimum contacts” with Illinois. World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286 (1980).. To reach this conclusion, the Court relied primarily on two tests: a “targeting” test from Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984) and a “sliding scale” test of website interactivity from Zippo Manufacturing Co. v. Zippo Dot Com, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 1119 (W.D.Pa.1997).
Before reaching the issue of specific personal jurisdiction, the Court first rejected general jurisdiction over defendants because plaintiffs did not establish that defendants had “substantial or continuous” activities in Illinois to warrant the Court's exercise of general jurisdiction. The Court held that “mere maintenance of an Internet website is generally not sufficient to exercise general jurisdiction.”
The Court then rejected specific personal jurisdiction because defendants had not “purposefully directed their activities at Illinois residents,” Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 US 462 (1985), utilizing the “effects” test from Calder, and holding that the alleged libel was not directed at Illinois. The Court reasoned that because none of the defendants’ print or internet subscribers lived in Illinois, the article’s effect on Jackson’s reputation in Illinois was minimal. Moreover, the Court noted Calder’s test that a court must focus on “the relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation.” In Calder, because the libel was directed at Hollywood, California, jurisdiction was appropriate. However, the Court distinguished Calder because, unlike the plaintiff in Calder, Jackson's reputation was considered of a "truly national scope," explaining that Illinois was neither the center of his reputation nor the "focal point" of the allegedly libelous article.
The Court explained that the Seventh Circuit has interpreted Calder broadly, noting its analysis in Indianapolis Colts, Inc. v. Metropolitan Baltimore Football Club Ltd. P’ship, 34 F.3d 410 (7th Cir. 1994) and Janmark Inc. v. Reidy, 132 F.3d 1200 (7th Cir. 1997). However, the Court noted that the focal point remained the question of where defendants “direct” their torts. Thus, the question was distilled down to “whether defendants directed their website at Illinois residents.”
Applying Jennings to this case, the Court found that jurisdiction in a forum where no injury occurred would be proper only if the website was sufficiently interactive with forum residents. To determine the level of interactivity necessary for the exercise of specific jurisdiction, the Court used a "sliding scale" of interactivity test from Zippo. The Zippo test divides websites into three categories of interactivity: interactive websites allowing the owner to conduct business and elicit sales (enough to grant jurisdiction), passive websites with no interactivity (no jurisdiction), and interactive websites where a user exchanges information with a host computer (may be sufficient to grant jurisdiction). Because the defendants’ publicized only California phone numbers, did not have a national 800 number, carried only local or AP wire news, including local weather, and had no Illinois subscribers, the Court held that the website was directed only to California residents. Thus, the Court found that defendants could not foresee effects in, nor did they target, Illinois.
The Court also rejected plaintiffs’ argument that the ability to search for jobs in Illinois via defendants' website made jurisdiction proper, noting that the website was actually redirecting users to a separate job search website and was not aiming services at Illinois residents. Though the website was interactive with California, the Court held that defendants did not aim their services to Illinois, nor would it be foreseeable to defendants for it to be sued there. The Court held that “haling defendants into an Illinois court based on an article regarding a local California forum posted on a local California website would offend notions of due process.” Burger King Corp., 471 U.S. at 474.
Finally, the Court noted that since Illinois residents were not targeted by defendants’ actions, "Illinois' interest in adjudicating this suit is not very high."