1

Say person A lives in one state, and person B was harassing them on social media. Person A wants to sue for both libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Would the harassment (B making harassing comments on person A's posts) be enough for person A's state to establish jurisdiction over them?

What if the person was a resident of a different country at the time of the tort but is a US citizen and who has since moved back to the US, but their state is unknown. (They just recently moved, so I can't find their location online yet.) Also, the suit is for <$75,000, so it can't be filed in Federal Court.

Edit-the social media platform is US-based.

When I called the police on this person in their country, they could not prosecute them because I was in the US. (So I hope I can get jurisdiction over him in the US.)

4
  • (1) In my answer to one of your questions I pointed out that suing for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress hardly every succeeds (more so when the events happen on social media), whence it is in your best interest to focus on the other claim(s). (2) The new information that person B "has since moved back to the US" prompts the question of whether the statute of limitations has expired. You still have not specified your (or "person A's" jurisdiction) and when the torts happened, thereby making it impossible to let you know whether it is too late to file suit. Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 1:10
  • If I reveal my state, I would be identifiable, if I'm not already. However, the statue of limitations for these torts in my state is 2 years. (I'm still within this time frame.)
    – user31745
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 1:13
  • 5
    @Gemini thems the breaks of asking for free advice on a public forum - you need a lawyer for your case imho, not a thousand separate generic answers to a thousand separate generic questions where you dont want to reveal “too much” and thus cant get a specific answer.
    – user28517
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 3:14
  • 1
    @Gemini "If I reveal my state, I would be identifiable". That is very unlikely because there are millions of people in each state, and on a daily basis thousands experience on social media attacks to their feelings and/or to their reputation. I typically encourage pro se litigation but in this case I have to agree with Moo's comment because of the piecemeal, blurry, and repetitive approach your questions reflect. Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 10:16

3 Answers 3

2

Rules on this vary from state to state in the US, so for an example I will look at the laws of Maryland.

Maryland Law

The relevant law is Maryland code Section 6-103 This section provides:

(b) In general.- A court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a person, who directly or by an agent: ...

(b)(3) Causes tortious injury in the State by an act or omission in the State; [or]

(b)(4) Causes tortious injury in the State or outside of the State by an act or omission outside the State if he regularly does or solicits business, engages in any other persistent course of conduct in the State or derives substantial revenue from goods, food, services, or manufactured products used or consumed in the State;

Defamation is a form of tortious injury. Thus a key question will be: Where it is caused when the defamation takes place over the internet (unless the alleged defamer does significant business in the state). There appears to be no clear and consistent answer to this question.

Other sources

The AllLaw page "Online Defamation & Libel: Legal Issues" reads:

Where Will Your Defamation Lawsuit Be Filed?

Before filing a defamation lawsuit, you also need to figure out where to sue. Most defamation suits take place in state court, but in which state court should you file your complaint? Is it your state? Is it the state where the poster lives? Maybe it's the state where the ISP or website host has its main office. Or perhaps it's the state where the physical servers that contain the defamatory statements exist?

There is no definite answer to these questions. They depend on a number of factors, such as each state's jurisdiction laws, the types of interactions you and the defendant have with each state, and the provisions contained in each state's defamation statutes.

Nolo's page on "Social Media and Online Defamation" reds:

What State's Law Applies? Where Can I Sue?
This is a complicated issue that depends on what state you live in, what state the alleged defamer lives in, and the contacts that the defamer has had with your state, if any. If you think that you have been defamed online, you should contact a qualified attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options and the best course of action.

FindLaw's page on "Defamation and Social Media" reads:

Plaintiffs who believe they have been defamed online should bring a claim against the person or entity that actually made the defamatory statement. In doing so, the plaintiff will have to file suit in an appropriate state court. The appropriate state court should be determined after a jurisdictional analysis is conducted by an attorney.

Minc's Online Defamation Law Guide reads:

The general rule of thumb on where an online defamation plaintiff can file their lawsuit is that they may file their suit in the state where the defamer lives. However, jurisdiction over an online defamation matter is not only determined based on where the online defamer lives.Online defamation plaintiffs may, in some cases, also file a defamation lawsuit in the state:

  • Where the Plaintiffs lives,
  • Where the plaintiff’s business is headquartered,
  • Where the post was published,
  • Where the plaintiff has been harmed by the publication.

This analysis varies considerably by state and is usually dependent on the scope of a state’s long-arm statute and specific court rulings that have addressed the issue. To determine if jurisdiction is proper in a defamation plaintiff’s home-state or another jurisdiction, courts will typically look to:

  • Evidence that people have viewed or read the publication in that state;
  • The plaintiff has experienced harm in that state;
  • The plaintiff is located in that state;
  • The Defendant ties and connections with the state in questions; and
  • The libel was directed at that state.

Conclusion

In short, this is an issue with no simple and general answer. The result will depend on the specific states involved, and the specific facts of the case.

1

The conclusion in the answer by @DavidSiegel is correct, although I would qualify that while the specific facts of the case are extremely important and cases are resolved on a case by case basis, most of the relevant law is federal constitutional law, because state long arm statutes are routinely supported by case law that holds that the intent of these statutes is to extend the jurisdiction of the state courts to the maximum extent allowed by the U.S. Constitution, collapsing the analysis and making it, in practice, one of purely federal law.

On the merits, by the way, the defamation claim seems very weak, and an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, which requires a very high threshold of outrageous conduct, also seems weak.

If the conduct consists of "B making harassing comments on person A's posts" and that's it, this almost surely does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted on any ground. You are better of simply blocking them.

Also, the suit is for <$75,000, so it can't be filed in Federal Court.

The personal jurisdiction that a U.S. District court (i.e. federal trial court) has over a defendant in a civil case is exactly identical (by statute) to the jurisdiction of a state court of general jurisdiction in the same state, even though it would be constitutional to give U.S. District courts broader personal jurisdiction than state courts.

Also, if the damage is non-economic as well as economic, as it would be for both of these torts, who is to say that the amount in controversy is not over $75,000? Awards of more than $75,000 of non-economic damages in successful lawsuits for defamation and/or for intentional infliction of emotional distress are both not infrequently more than $75,000.

What if the person was a resident of a different country at the time of the tort but is a US citizen and who has since moved back to the US, but their state is unknown. (They just recently moved, so I can't find their location online yet.)

A court of general jurisdiction in the state where the defendant is domiciled (i.e. residents indefinitely rather than temporarily with an intend to return somewhere else), always has personal jurisdiction over a defendant.

U.S. citizenship isn't relevant to personal jurisdiction as a matter of legal doctrine, although courts do tend to be more reluctant in practice to assert jurisdiction over non-resident non-citizen defendants.

Say person A lives in one state, and person B was harassing them on social media. Person A wants to sue for both libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Would the harassment (B making harassing comments on person A's posts) be enough for person A's state to establish jurisdiction over them? Edit-the social media platform is US-based.

Generally speaking, the touchstone for tort jurisdiction is whether the tort was specifically directed harm at a state, for example, by directing it at an individual who was known to live in a state by the tortfeasor. There would probably be jurisdiction where the Plaintiff resides, but it is a highly fact specific analysis without hard and fast lines in edge cases. The locus of the social media platform probably wouldn't matter.

Also, keep in mind that personal jurisdiction and choice of law are two different questions. Even if a court has personal jurisdiction over a defendant, that doesn't necessarily mean that the law of the U.S. forum court would be applied to the case. That is a complicated inquiry all its own.

When I called the police on this person in their country, they could not prosecute them because I was in the US. (So I hope I can get jurisdiction over him in the US.)

This is probably not true as a matter of law, but it may be true as a matter of police department policy.

0

There's a high chance of a lack of Personal Jurisdiction

Recently, it was ruled in a defamation case that in , where the plaintiff lives, no jurisdiction exists for someone that had disseminated what the plaintiff alleges to be falsehoods and defamation via Youtube. The court ruled, that the Defendant needs to be sued in their home state. The case's Docket via Courtlistener does provide Document 67:

Order Granting Defendants' Motion To Dismiss For Lack of Personal Jurisdiction and Denying Motion For Sanctions [...]

Having reviewed the parties’ briefs in support of and in opposition to the motions, the relevant exhibits and case law, and the remainder of the record, the Court grants Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and denies Defendants’ Motion for Sanctions. The Court’s reasoning follows [...]

Defendant [...] is a resident of Minnesota. Her company, Defendant [...] , is a Minnesota limited liability company. [Defendant] is an internet “blogger and vlogger who makes, produces, and uploads ‘drama’ and/or ‘tea’ videos and internet postings on various internet-based platforms, including but not limited to YouTube and Twitter.” Defendants have an estimated 135,000 YouTube followers. [...]

Plaintiffs claim that in these videos, Defendants have “intentionally harassed and maligned Plaintiffs and/or otherwise maliciously portrayed them in a false light and sought to financially harm them.” [...]

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction. Because the Court grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss on these grounds, it does not reach Defendants’ remaining challenges to the Complaint

Courts apply a three-part test to determine whether the non-resident defendant has the requisite quantum of “minimum contacts” with the forum state for the exercise of specific jurisdiction to be appropriate: (1) the defendant has purposefully directed his activities toward the forum; (2) the plaintiff’s claims arise out of those forum-related activities, and (3) the exercise of jurisdiction is reasonable. See Burger King Corp., 471 U.S. at 472–76; Schwarzenegger, 374 F.3d

Personal jurisdiction may be general or specific. Helicopteros Nacionales de Colom., S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 415–416 (1984). General jurisdiction requires that a defendant’s contacts in the forum state are “continuous and systematic.” See id. Because Plaintiffs here do not claim that Defendants are subject to this Court’s general jurisdiction, the Court considers only the question of specific jurisdiction. Defendants challenge the first prong of the “minimum contacts” test, and deny that they “purposefully directed” their activities towards Washington. [...]

Even in this context of constantly and rapidly evolving technology, whether a defendant accused of an intentional tort such as defamation has “purposefully directed” its activities toward a forum sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction is still governed by the “effects” test outlined nearly 40 years ago by the Supreme Court in Calder v. Jones, 465 U.S. 783 (1984); see Picot v. Weston, 780 F.3d 1206, 1214 (9th Cir. 2015). Under this test, courts are to determine whether the defendant “(1) committed an intentional act, (2) expressly aimed at the forum state, (3) causing harm that the defendant knows is likely to be suffered in the forum state.” Mavrix Photo, Inc. v. Brand Techs., Inc., 647 F.3d 1218, 1228 (9th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). Apparently conceding prongs (1) and (3), Defendants claim that Plaintiffs have failed to establish the second element of the Calder effects test: that Defendants’ conduct was “expressly aimed” at Washington.[...]

As noted above, in the context of internet-based conduct in particular, courts “ have struggled with the question whether tortious conduct on a nationally accessible website is expressly aimed at any, or all, of the forums in which the website can be viewed,” and have required “something more” than maintenance of a passive website, available anywhere with an internet connection. Mavrix Photo, 647 F.3d at 1229. The Ninth Circuit has found jurisdiction where a defendant “continuously and deliberately exploited” the forum-state market for its website, and a “substantial number of hits to [defendant’s] website came from” the forum. Mavrix Photo, 647 F.3d at 1230. It has declined to exercise jurisdiction, however, even where almost 20% of a defendant’s total circulation was located in the forum, where plaintiff did “not establish that [defendant] expressly aimed at” the forum or “tailored the website to attract [forum-specific] traffic.” AMA Multimedia, LLC v. Wanat, 970 F.3d 1201, 1211 (9th Cir. 2020). [...]

After examining Defendants’ connections to the state of Washington, the Court concludes that the Defendants’ contacts in this case are the kind of “random, fortuitous, or attenuated” contacts with the forum state that Walden cautioned courts against relying on. See Burger King Corp., 471 U.S. at 475; see also, e.g., Axiom Foods, Inc. v. Acerchem Int’l, Inc., 874 F.3d 1064, 1068 (9th Cir. 2017)

[...]

The Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that Defendants “expressly aimed” their video content at Washington, and thus have not shown that Defendants “purposefully directed” their actions toward the state of Washington. Therefore, the Court concludes that Washington is an improper forum, and this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendants.

You must log in to answer this question.